The Indianapolis Colts are going to have a hard time being better in 2012 than they have been in the recent past, their 2011 collapse notwithstanding.
But here's a sure thing -- they will be bigger. And they plan to be nastier. And tougher. And more physical.
The first offseason program of the Chuck Pagano/Ryan Grigson regime kicked off last week, and when the players arrived, T-shirts were waiting for them that affirmed the above, reading "Build the Monster." Long-time Colts safety Antoine Bethea told me he took it to mean that his new coach wanted a team that would be "feared." Bethea's new running mate in the secondary, Pagano import Tom Zbikowski, wasn't afraid to take that a step further.
"He wants a dominating team," the ex-Raven said of his former position coach and coordinator in Baltimore. "Not necessarily points-wise, how much you beat a team by, but just physically being bigger, being faster, being stronger -- and basically beating the (expletive) out of whoever you're playing. Nothing else more than that."
The team's moves to this point back Zbikowski's point up. Two ex-Ravens defensive linemen, Cory Redding and Brandon McKinney, were imported at a combined weight of nearly 650 pounds. The club's one free-agent signing of note on offense was a center, Samson Satele. And as for Zbikowski himself, he happens to list "professional boxing" as a hobby.
The implication is clear.
Yes, the Colts almost certainly will take Andrew Luck two weeks from Thursday. But that doesn't mean that they're going to try and recreate what they had with Peyton Manning, which was a high-flying offense and a defense built to play fast and disruptive when armed with a big lead.
Across the board, the idea is to make this team look more like the Ravens -- big, tough and physical. By the way, that isn't unlike what Luck was around at Stanford.
That's not to degrade what was in place before in Indy, a system that churned out an astounding string of seven straight 12-win seasons, two trips to the Super Bowl and a championship. It's simply to say that things look significantly different there now. And that this two-week head-start the Colts have gotten will be used to kick-start that change.
The Colts aren't alone. A mechanism in the new collective bargaining agreement allows teams with new head coaches a head start on offseason conditioning programs. Here's a look at what changes are underway in the other five organizations undergoing regime changes:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The phrase "culture change" is raised with most new regimes. Here, it means plenty. The feeling in Tampa is that Raheem Morris' biggest issue was allowing himself to become "one of the guys", with his age playing into that, and the dynamic hurting him when things went awry. Greg Schiano's reputation as a program builder is outstanding. As simple as it sounds, the first part of that is getting veterans and leaders on board, something Schiano's already at work on.
Miami Dolphins: The offense will move to a Packers-style West Coast look under Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman, while the defense shifts to a 4-3. But as much as anything else, aligning the organization with a singular focus -- a problem born of the Jim Harbaugh 2011 fiasco, and an area where the loss of Bill Parcells was felt -- will be a priority, particularly after owner Stephen Ross had to stand up and defend his club's direction publicly last month.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert said last week "there's a renewed sense of energy" under new coach Mike Mularkey. And that's not all good news for Gabbert himself. Mularkey's not invested in him, nor is new owner Shad Khan. Both were elsewhere when he was drafted, Chad Henne has since been signed, and the team made a run at local icon Tim Tebow. Which means, after Gabbert's lackluster rookie season, the first task here is sorting out the quarterback position.
Oakland Raiders: Everything's changed in Oakland, and the first thing Dennis Allen wants to establish is a sense of discipline on a team that's lacked it. "There's a perception of tough, nasty, dirty," Allen explained to me. "Now, we wanna be tough. We wanna be physical. But we wanna do it the right way." He offered three buzzwords: "tough, smart, disciplined." Clearly, GM Reggie McKenzie has work to do, with the cap issues and draft-pick deficit. Allen's charged with creating the right environment for the overhaul.
St. Louis Rams: St. Louis knows it'll be without Gregg Williams for at least 2012. Jeff Fisher said last month that he'd be reluctant to hire someone new into the defensive coordinator spot. One way to keep it open for a possible return by Williams would be to have Dave McGinnis, who was a DC for five years in Arizona, lead the way in a committee approach. Either way, with the need to sort that out, and getting Sam Bradford in sync with his third coordinator in three years (Brian Schottenheimer), there's plenty of work to do.
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