INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis can already detect a difference in this year's Indianapolis Colts.
Twelve months ago, the veterans were still explaining to teammates that they couldn't afford to wait a season or two to start winning and virtually banned the word "rebuild" from the locker room. Eventually, everyone got the message, and the Colts responded with a stunning nine-game improvement that put them back in the playoffs.
These days, Wayne and Mathis aren't talking as much or as loudly, though the goal has not changed. Win the Super Bowl.
Don't believe it can happen? If the Colts learned anything from last season's historic turnaround and Chuck Pagano's inspirational comeback it was this: Always believe.
So when the Colts report to training camp this week at Anderson University, an NCAA Division III school about 25 miles northeast of Indy, Wayne and Mathis are quietly raising the expectations.
"Better than last year," Wayne said when asked about his thoughts heading into camp. "I hope that's even more good news. I think we're on schedule. I'm just a servant. But if you ask me for my opinion, I think everything's on the up and up."
If Wayne is right again, as he usually is, the Colts could be headed for something bigger and better this season. Here are five things to know.
1. REVAMPED BLUEPRINT: Indy's biggest offseason need was finding more protection for Andrew Luck, so the Colts signed two key free agents, Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas, and then drafted Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes. Indy also added former Giants Super Bowl hero Ahmad Bradshaw to shore up the ground game, another piece that could lessen the burden on Luck. If it works, some of Luck's big numbers may decline but he could take a big step toward becoming the kind of quarterback who can complete the Super Bowl project.
2. MORE PEP IN THE OFFENSE: When Bruce Arians took his high-risk, high-reward offense to Arizona, Luck was reunited with his college offensive coordinator (Pep Hamilton). The good news is Luck already knows the offense, how it works best and why his efficiency numbers are bound to improve. The concern is that just about everyone else will spend another training camp in late-night cram sessions learning the new playbook and a new philosophy — something Peyton Manning didn't have to contend with until more than a decade into his career.
3. FREE AGENCY — HIT OR BUST: With so much room under the salary cap, the Colts gambled with a rare offseason spending spree. They brought in players they believed could immediately help such as Cherilus and Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, others who might start such as Thomas and Erik Walden and even a few players looking to rejuvenate their careers in a new location such as Bradshaw and Darrius Heyward-Bey. If the signings pan out, the Colts could be a big hit.
4. PASS RUSHERS WANTED: When Dwight Freeney walked away in free agency, it broke up one of the NFL's most feared pass-rushing tandems. It's still unclear who will help perennial Pro Bowler Mathis avoid extra blockers. Indy did take Bjoern Werner with its first-round draft pick, hoping he can make an immediate pass-rushing impact. But he's moving from defensive end to outside linebacker. The Colts signed a handful of other players along the defensive front to plug holes and even shored up the secondary with hopes that would help the pass rush reach the quarterback.
5. IN SEARCH OF MOTIVATION: Late last season, Arians said that when pro players are asked to play for something other than a paycheck they "do amazing things." He was alluding to the Colts' response to proving wrong the critics who picked them to be the league's worst team while also showing they could keep winning until Pagano returned from his battle with leukemia. It won't be the same way this time around. The Colts won't sneak up on anyone, won't play the easy schedule and must find a new rallying cry that resonates throughout the locker room.
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