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Indy's father-son front office tandem, Bill and Chris Polian, has been replaced by the wheeling-and-dealing first-time general manager Ryan Grigson.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.
Indy's reward for posting the league's worst record last season was earning the No. 1 draft pick, giving them a chance to replace Manning with a rookie quarterback considered the most NFL-ready passer since Manning was taken No. 1 overall in 1998.
Luck has been as good as advertised.
From the day training camp opened, the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up has been drawing rave reviews. He completed 71.3 percent of his 447 attempts in team drills during Indy's 3½-week stay at Anderson University, and 62.5 percent in his first three preseason games.
How good is he?
"He doesn't play like a rookie, he's a very polished guy," said Vinatieri, a former teammate of Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady and Manning. "For a young guy, he can make all the throws."
But there are plenty of questions, too.
The Colts took the top two tight ends in the draft, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, then drafted two wide receivers and signed the oft-injured Donnie Avery.
Grigson also revamped an offensive line that struggled each of the past two seasons. He kept left tackle Anthony Castonzo, Indy's 2011 first-round pick, then filled in three other spots with new acquisitions — center Samson Satele, guard Mike McGlynn and right tackle Winston Justice. It's a work in progress.
"There were some things, obviously, that after we looked at the tape, from a communication standpoint and, like I said afterward, fundamentals and technique stuff, that we can clean up," Pagano said after last weekend's preseason loss at Washington. "It has nothing to do with want and effort and certain things like that. But again, it just comes down to communication and fundamentals and technique."
Defensively, things are still getting sorted out, too.
Defensive end Cory Redding is recovering from a knee injury, inside linebacker Pat Angerer is expected to miss another four to six weeks with a fractured foot and three backups — defensive tackle Brandon McKinney and linebackers A.J. Edds and Scott Lutrus — have been lost for the season with torn anterior cruciate ligaments.
Add the switch of Freeney and Mathis and the recent acquisition of cornerback Vontae Davis, and Indy still has a lot to learn.
However, Wayne says, "Who knows, we might shock the world. This time next year, you might be writing that these Colts are some bad boys. I guess we'll be in tune to find out what happens."
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