NFL training camp notebook: Colts learning lessons from past


ANDERSON, Ind. -- Last season, Chuck Pagano brought Ray Lewis in during the playoffs to speak to his team, and when the Colts' run ended, Pagano invoked a memory of the Ravens legend.

Truth is, Pagano wasn't exactly flush with options after taking a 45-7 haymaker from the eventual world-champion Patriots in the AFC title game. And so it made all the sense in the world to recount to his players another speech given by his former linebacker three years earlier, in the very same Gillette Stadium visitors' locker room the Colts were occupying.

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"In 2011, if [the Ravens] win the [AFC title game], I'm not having this conversation with you, because then I don't get to talk to this club; that's the byproduct," said Pagano, referencing Baltimore's defeat in New England in those playoffs, which freed him to leave his position as the Ravens' defensive coordinator and land the top job in Indianapolis days later. "We sat in the same locker room there, and Ray said the same thing."

It went, as Pagano remembers it, like this: As bad as we feel after this loss, in two weeks, someone's gonna feel a hell of a lot worse than we do. Don't ever forget this feeling. Just go to work, and just don't forget we're gonna be back in this same position one year from now. And let's do everything we possibly can to make sure that happens, and then we'll finish the job.

"The rest," Pagano said, "is history."

The Ravens bounced back from that loss by, indeed, returning to Foxborough the next January, this time vanquishing the Patriots on their way to victory in Super Bowl XLVII. No one at Colts training camp on this early August night would mind if that history had a way of repeating itself.

And that's where we'll turn the page from 2014 to '15, with the first full slate of preseason games set to unfold over the next four days. Teams will cite parity and roster turnover in saying that last year will have no effect on this year.

To a degree, that's true. But the past can be a great teacher, and Pagano most certainly wants his players to carry scars from that night in Foxborough with them, a night he remembers for "some bad ball early, and then getting steamrolled, and not being able to compete at the level and play the way we did in the two playoff games -- play well against Cincinnati and go to Denver and win that game."

Pagano, of course, isn't going to completely abandon the live-for-today, one-play-at-a-time, one-day-at-a-time clichés that guide so many coaches.

But he knows and remembers. He wants his players to, as well.

"I think you have to go through some turmoil and some pain and some confusion and some anxiety to grow," Pagano said. "That's part of training camp as well, but certainly that burn that's in your belly after something like that, that sticks with you. That should be the fuel and the motivation, because it's so hard to get there. And then to have happen what happened and try to get back is gonna be 10 times harder.

"So long as you learn the lessons from it, and you grow, and you're fortunate enough to make it back -- and again, that's a long ways from now -- you'll be better prepared, at least from a mental standpoint."

The work ratchets up this week for the Colts and the rest of the league. It's another step. And here's how some others will take that step heading into actual live (preseason) game action:

Jameis Winston moving along: The Buccaneers continue to see positives out of Winston. Because he has both an extensive background in a pro-style offense and a high football IQ, the Bucs have taken the tack of overloading Winston and letting him fight his way through it. And that's not just on the field, but off it as well. The No. 1 overall pick has a naturally playful nature with teammates, but there are certain spots where the Bucs have tried to teach him to be more business-like. And he's done a good job, to this point, of balancing out his demeanor, which is important for a franchise quarterback.

Marcus Mariota growing, too: So many positive things have been said about the Titans' rookie quarterback, it'd almost be a struggle to add something. So I'll turn it over to someone in the building who justified all the bouquets that have landed at the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner's feet: "He's been outstanding so far -- learned fast, protects the ball, very accurate." The Titans have their fingers crossed that it will carry over to their first preseason matchup, against the Atlanta Falcons on Friday. The main areas he's improved in are the basics: getting in and out of the huddle and working handoffs from under center.

Steelers dealing with turnover on D: The foundation of the last great Steelers defense is gone entirely. And to supplement a powerful offense, Pittsburgh needs a bunch of young defensive players (starting with a linebacking crew boasting four former first-rounders) to step forward simultaneously. The hope is that they learned from the departed veterans. "They had some exposure to those guys, and not necessarily for their best years," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told me. "Those guys never changed. Their skills may have declined -- they were still the same great teammates, great examples that hopefully enough of these younger players saw, and can take that example with them as they try to get their own successes."

Every game, all season

Franchise reboots: The Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins and New York Jets all have new general managers, and my feeling is Ryan Pace, Scot McCloughan and Mike Maccagnan are being very honest with themselves about where their respective rosters are. For Pace, fixing the Bears' culture was a piece of the puzzle, so the team jettisoned receiver Brandon Marshall in a trade to the Jets. Ditto for McCloughan, who very clearly tried to send a message to the Redskins' locker room with his first draft pick (offensive lineman Brandon Scherff) and big contract (a five-year, $57.5 million extension given to linebacker Ryan Kerrigan). And then there's Maccagnan, whose splashy moves in free agency were made largely to stop-gap salary-cap space as the Jets work to build through the draft. The real commonality here comes in each guy's knowledge that the roster he inherited needed major reworking, and the fact that they're all trying to build roster flexibility to do it.

The Eagles' flight plan: No NFL coach's thought process is more heavily analyzed than Chip Kelly's. But I actually believe this offseason's flurry of moves was pretty simply explained: The group former Philadelphia coach Andy Reid assembled had, in Kelly's view, maxed out. And rather than banging his head against that barrier, he decided to shake up the roster. So maybe the floor's a little lower now. But the ceiling is higher. "We're not building it to the stay the same," Kelly told me. "We're building it to get better. And that's the direction we're going. Now, you gotta play it out. Can't make predictions, so we'll play it out on the field, but we feel that way today. You don't know what happens injury-wise and that stuff, but I feel better, depth-wise."

Ndamukong Suh living up to expectations: There's no way to tell at this point -- through five months of not playing real football yet -- whether Suh will be worth the $60 million in guaranteed money the Miami brass (with the enthusiastic endorsement of owner Stephen Ross) handed the all-planet defensive tackle. But the early signs are good. And frightening. On the first play of the team's first live scrimmage, at Florida International University, Suh decked the guard and raced into the backfield, eventually dropping the back for a 12-yard loss. It caught the attention of the whole staff -- and that's the kind of intensity Suh's been bringing to practice. Beyond just that, to this point, he's been a model teammate. Again, time will tell -- but so far, so good.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.



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