Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano was candid during an exchange with reporters during training camp on what he expects from his team during training camp.

The tenor of the conversation regarding the Colts’ physicality in training camp this year is that they are dead set on changing the perception that they are “soft.” Think that is a harsh word? Harsh perception? Go back to January 2nd, 2017, the day the 2016 Colts were cleaning out their lockers. Head Coach Chuck Pagano addresses the media and uses the word “soft” when talking about his team’s performance in the critical games .. or whatever.

“…you get in those moments and you get a little bit soft or you get a little hesitant or whatever. National Football League – people go down the field, put points on you, lose games that you probably shouldn’t lose…”

It is entirely possible that this change in mentality; change in approach to training camp would have been the direction Pagano took the Colts regardless of new senior leadership for the franchise.

There are other possible reasons for the pivot from Pagano’s perspective.

First of all the previously mentioned inability to execute in critical games.  In those high leverage games, those high leverage drives, or downs, the Colts of the recent past have been consistently embarrassed. There is no need to rehash the specific games at length, but you know the ones. The Patriots, the Steelers, even the Texans as of late have had their way with the ‘finesse’ team from Indianapolis.

Additionally, the roster is younger. The 2017 Colts average age is right around 25 years old. The past off season saw the departure of Robert Mathis to his well-deserved retirement. Erik Walden, Mike Adams, Trent Cole, D’Qwell Jackson, Joe Reitz and Art Jones all are over 30, and all did not return in 2017. Saving older players were one less reason to run a “thud” only training camp.

Pagano has shown an aversion to this level of physicality in training camp in the past. Expressing that he was being cautious for the sake of preventing possible injuries while taking the conservative approach.

There are only two possibilities.  Either Pagano has made the change to a more physical training camp with some of the most live tackling sessions of his tenure in Indianapolis on his own, or the 6th year head coach has been influenced by his new management in Chris Ballard.

Ballard :

“it really comes to light when you get into November and December. Having a physical training camp, me and Chuck have talked a long time about this, and he’s in agreement, it doesn’t mean we’re tackling to the ground every day. What it means is we’re going to have a few more live sessions than they’ve had in the past.”

The GM and the Head Coach have talked a long time about the level of physicality in training camp.  If the two were in agreement to begin the conversation, it would not take long.

I believe it is safe to say that Pagano’s execution, precisely executing on his and Ballard’s “shared” vision, during this training camp is one of the aspects of his performance that is being evaluated as it relates to his retention going forward.  As we know, Pagano’s evaluation is based on more than just wins and losses.  There are always “other factors” in play when the topic of Pagano’s job evaluation is brought up. The tone training camp sets for the identity of this team seems to be one of those factors.

Pagano can stand in front of the microphones and talk about changing “people’s” perception of the Colts.

” …trying to develop that physicality we’re looking for and the mental toughness. And be able to – those guys got to be able to push themselves past the point where they think they can’t go anymore, and that’s what we’re doing. That’s our job ..”

When asked what perception exactly they are trying to combat …

“You guys understand what I’m talking about. You guys write it.”

Are the Colts trying to change the perception the media has of them? No. An NFL franchise, the head coach, should not care what is written about them. Pagano didn’t answer the question, did he?

Pagano sounds like a coach that is acquiescing to the wishes of his boss.  He will make the changes because it is the right thing to do, and Ballard approaches his position, and his relationship with Pagano, with what seems to be genuine care and sincerity.

Following a Tuesday morning training camp practice, Pagano was asked if more live tackling could be expected throughout the rest of the week …

“Yeah. A little hors d’oeuvre. A little appetizer. Threw out a little calamari. We might have some cheese fries or something tomorrow. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

:: eye roll emoji::

He does not sound like a head coach leading the charge to change the psyche, the mentality of his football team. He sounds like someone trying to change a perception, someone’s perception. Because to him, it’s not really true. His team doesn’t really lack physicality; it’s just a perceptionthey think we are soft. Perception is reality, Chuck.

Pagano again …

“…You want everybody to be healthy. I think we’re a bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, competitive team…”

Chris Ballard on the same topic …

” … I think a lot of the problems we have is that we don’t hit enough. You’re always worried about injuries, but this is football and it’s a physical game.”

Ballard goes on to use a boxing analogy. “You need to spar.” The players are preparing their body. Pagano uses platitudes to describe preparing one’s body for the grind of an NFL season.  “Iron sharpens Iron” and “Build the Monster.” The Colts have not been free from injury issues over the last six seasons. Quite the contrary.

Pagano is being evaluated on more than just wins and losses.  He should be concerned with only one person’s perception of his team, Chris Ballard. At this point, looking back at the tackling issues, slow starts and late game breakdowns (etc.) it would be more indicative of actual change on the horizon to hear the point of view from the head coach that the team actually is lacking in dominant physicality, rather than that there simply is some perception of that floating around. Pagano is a good man and cares about his team; we will have to see if he can be the head coach that Chris Ballard envisions for his organization. The product on the field needs to be different, more prepared, more physical.

To Pagano’s credit, reports out of Indianapolis up to this point have been that this has been a decidedly more physical camp, and the players are benefiting from it.

Castonzo when asked if there is a benefit to live sessions before the first game …

“Yeah, totally. You don’t want your first taste to be the game. You don’t want anything to hit you by surprise in a game situation. That’s what practice is for.”

That’s what practice is for.

The quotes in this article were pulled from past press conferences and from Colts.com 

 

 

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Husband. Father. Friend. Coach. "Writer." Student of football and life. Nuance and perspective is good. Football is the ultimate team sport, and a terrific teacher of life lessons. Be happy, people.