Colts hoping for solid start in new Luck era

Associated Press Published: August 30, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts are ready to start over.

For the first time in 15 years, Peyton Manning isn't around. For the first time in more than a decade, the Colts are not expected to contend for a division title or make the playoffs.

Players understand this is reality for 2012, they just don't believe in using the r-word.

"I don't have rebuilding years in me," Pro Bowl defensive end and converted linebacker Robert Mathis said. "I rebuilt last year, 2-14 was the rebuilding year. New year, new attitude, new defense, new offense, new tune."

It's a common refrain within the confines of Indy's recently remodeled locker room.

The few longtime veterans still hanging around — Mathis, Dwight Freeney, Adam Vinatieri and Reggie Wayne among them — delivered a succinct message that quickly resonated with the new and young faces now populating the Colts' complex.

Even Andrew Luck, Manning's replacement, has bought into the philosophy.

"I don't think anybody is viewing it as a rebuilding season," Luck said. "There are great players on this team. Guys that have made the playoffs for X amount of years in a row, and then maybe missed out last year, so I know they are hungry. I just hope that I can help them achieve that goal."

The challenge in Indy is enormous.

Indy's father-son front office tandem, Bill and Chris Polian, has been replaced by the wheeling-and-dealing first-time general manager Ryan Grigson.

Jim Caldwell, Tony Dungy's hand-picked successor, was replaced by Chuck Pagano, a folksy fellow who has never before been a head coach.

Also gone are most of those familiar faces who helped lead the Colts to the most regular-season wins in a decade than any team in league history. The list includes Manning, running backs Joseph Addai and Edgerrin James, linebacker Gary Brackett, tight end Dallas Clark, receiver Marvin Harrison, offensive lineman Ryan Diem and center Jeff Saturday.

Even those who stuck around have been busy retraining.

Freeney and Mathis, one of the league's most feared pass-rushing tandems for nearly a decade in Indy's traditional 4-3 defense, are now considered linebackers in Pagano's preferred 3-4 hybrid defense. And Wayne, who always lined up on the left side, has been rejuvenated by moving all over the field.

"As a team, I think everyone is buying into the system and understanding what is going on," Wayne said. "As a whole, we believe that we can be a really good bunch and surprise a lot of people, so hopefully we continue to have that mindset and keep moving forward."

The biggest reason for optimism is pure Luck.