Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano walked onto the practice field Sunday with new perspectives about training camp.
This time, the Colts' second-year quarterback knew where to go, what to do and how the offense should be run. This time, the Colts second-year coach was looking good and feeling fine.
A lot has changed in the 12 months since Luck came to Anderson University as Peyton Manning's replacement and Pagano spent the summer trying to rebuild the Colts. Now, the message is all about building on the foundation Indianapolis laid in 2012.
"We can sit there and read the press clippings and pat ourselves on the back and certainly get complacent. We're not going to get complacent," Pagano said after the Colts wrapped up their first two practices. "You get complacent in this league, you go right back to where you were. It's kind of unfinished business for us."
When the Colts were previously on this Division III campus, about 25 miles northeast of Indianapolis, they were almost universally considered the NFL's worst team. Players were so disgusted at falling to No. 32 in the power rankings that they made T-shirts as a daily reminder that they wanted to prove the doubters wrong.
Back then, Luck was still cramming to become an NFL quarterback after missing most of the team's offseason workouts because of his classes at Stanford, and Pagano was trying to fight through the sluggish feeling and unexplainable bruises — the first symptoms of leukemia. By early October, Luck was settling into his new role, Pagano had taken a leave of absence as he underwent chemotherapy and interim coach Bruce Arians and the Colts veterans were busy leading Indy back to respectability.
When Pagano returned to the sideline in late December, the Colts had already clinched a playoff spot, Luck was putting the final touches on one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history and Arians had all but sewn up the Coach of the Year Award. The expectations have only grown in Round 2. On Sunday, the Colts showed off their new T-shirt — a photo of the Lombardi Trophy with the words "Hoist It" underneath.
"We set that bar so high, we set the stage so high," Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne said after arriving at camp via helicopter Saturday. "There's still not a lot of buzz about us. We've got to prove people wrong, got to show them what we can do, what we're made out of."
It starts with Luck, who will run his second offense in two years. The good news is that he's working again with a coordinator, Pep Hamilton, and a system that the two ran at Stanford. His familiarity has turned him from a pupil into a teacher for the rest of his teammates.
Indianapolis' offseason goal was to protect Luck better this season. They signed two offensive linemen who were veteran free agents, drafted two more and are hoping the combination of quicker throws and a more efficient ground game that Luck won't have to endure nearly as many hits as last year. If all goes well, Luck may not have to throw the 681 passes he did in the regular-season and playoffs, either.
So how different will this offense be?
"You'll have to see in practice and games," Luck said with a smile. "But it's definitely a different feel."
There are plenty of new faces around, too.
General manager Ryan Grigson spent about $140 million on 11 veteran agents. He drafted seven more rookies and went as far as African rugby in search of talent.
Among this year's "finds" are Daniel Adongo, a native of Kenya who is a world-class rugby player and a novice at American football; safety Josh McNary, who is expected to start practicing Tuesday after he finishes a two-year service commitment in the U.S. Army; and 25-year-old rookie receiver Jeremy Kelley, a veteran of the Canadian and Arena Football Leagues.
In all, there are nearly three dozen new players in Anderson.
"You can't always hit with 100 percent but we felt we did as good as we possibly could have, given the situation," Grigson said when asked about Indy's moves in free agency.
The best sight for fans was seeing Pagano. With the cancer still in remission, he's fit, feisty and under no medical restrictions at camp. That means Pagano can go back to building toward the same goal he did a year ago — winning the Super Bowl. It's just that now it seems so much more believable to the outside world.
"We showed a clip last night, a highlight, and it ended with the scoreboard in the playoff game," Pagano said. "There was 12 minutes and 30 seconds to go on the clock and it's in the fourth quarter and it was a one-score game, and we had the ball first-and-five on their 18-yard line. That's a team that eventually won the Super Bowl. So our expectations don't change. The ultimate goal is always a world championship."