The 30-somethings from the “U” have made their first impressions with actions and few words.
“Pretty seamless,” the coach said during offseason training activities. “To me, it seems like they’ve been here for the past five years, to be honest with you. They don’t miss a beat as far as the playbook goes, knowing what to do. Every time I see them in the huddle, break a huddle, to me it looks like they’re going the right direction. They’re lining up right.
“They’re very talented, talented guys. They fit right into the locker room. They’re professionals. Again, the resume speaks for itself. They’re not talkers. They’re workers, they’re doers. So it’s not like they had to come in here and say a whole lot. They’re all business. They’re great for our team. They’re great for our young guys to see guys like that come in and having years of experience under their belt and watching those guys work and put the time in at their age. They don’t ask to have days off. They don’t ask to have reps off and all this other stuff. They’re working like everybody else.”
Gore, 32, was selected in the third round in 2005 by the San Francisco 49ers. In 10 seasons, he ran for a franchise-record 11,073 yards and was named to five Pro Bowls. But his one Super Bowl appearance resulted in a loss in 2013.
The Houston Texans selected Johnson, 33, with the third overall pick in 2003. In a dozen seasons, he caught 1,012 passes for 13,597 yards and 64 TDs, all franchise records. He’s made seven Pro Bowls. But the closest he ever got to a ring was the second round of the playoffs.
That’s why they came to the Colts. They’re convinced an Andrew Luck-led team gave them the best chance to win a Super Bowl.
Three consecutive 11-win seasons and an AFC Championship Game loss in January have many asking the Colts about being legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Gore discussed the topic, as expected, like a seasoned pro.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “I feel that every year when you get better and better, every year it gets tougher and tougher. You can’t listen to when they’re saying, ‘You’re the Super Bowl favorite. It you don’t go to the Super Bowl then it’s a bust.’ You just have to take one day at a time, keep working together, try to get better as a crew, as a team and just try to win games.”
It’s not a sexy answer, but it’s truth. Johnson says the same.
“Yeah, you can feel it but at the same time, you’ve just got to take it one day at a time,” he said of lofty expectations. “That’s the way I approach it. That’s the way I look at it. Every day I’m here, I’m trying to better myself as a player and in the classroom. Learn what’s going on, learn the offense, so that I can go out and perform at a high level.”
Pagano, a former Hurricanes assistant who recruited the understated Johnson to Miami, stayed in touch with the wide receiver’s mother and uncle. He knew what he was getting when Johnson decided to join the Colts.
“I talk all the time that the game is going to fade but the relationships aren’t,” Pagano said. “Those are for life. I’m fortunate to still be here and fortunate to be coaching here and fortunate enough to have him on the same sideline again. I feel fortunate about all those guys like that.”
Johnson had always dreamed of playing with offseason workout partner Reggie Wayne, the 14-year wide receiver who became a Colts fan favorite but wasn’t re-signed in the offseason.
Instead, Johnson has been reunited with another offseason workout partner in wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, the 29th overall pick in the recent draft. Dorsett has gushed about playing with Johnson and continuing to learn from him. Johnson likes the kid.
“It’s crazy because I went back down to Miami and trained this offseason. He was around every day and we got a chance to talk a lot,” Johnson said. “He asked me a lot of questions and stuff like that. To see him drafted is kind of crazy. He is a good guy, a good kid. He wants to learn and wants to get better.
“Just from me being around him, seeing him just like a gym-rat, (he’s) just around wanting to do things. You tell him some days, ‘Go get some rest.’ He’s still in the weight room trying to get better as a player.”
Just watch guys like Johnson and Gore and follow their examples.
“Yeah, I’ve been in the league for a while,” Gore said. “I know what it takes. You have to be great in the locker room. You have to lead by example. That’s what type of guy I am. I’m not talkative, but I will help guys out. When I’m on the field, I also will work to show the guys what it will take to be in the league for a while.”
Both veterans say they’ve joined a great group of guys. They’ve been impressed by Luck, who takes charge of the offense and has wisdom beyond his three NFL seasons.
“I love it here,” Gore said.
“Just being here is like a breath of fresh air for me,” Johnson said.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.