Pagano touched on several important topics, from the injury status of key players such as outside linebacker Robert Mathis and offensive guard Donald Thomas, why right tackle Gosder Cherilus was recently released, the comebacks of running back Vick Ballard and inside linebacker Nate Irving as well as shifting Jack Mewhort to right tackle.
Here’s a summation of the coach’s assessments:
— The team will be “very, very, very smart” with Ballard’s comeback. He’s played only one game in two years due to ACL and Achilles tendon tears. Ballard was on a monitored play count for the first day. He said after the morning walk-through that he’s almost 100 percent.
— Asked if he pulls for a guy like Ballard, Pagano said, “How can you not? We love that kid.”
— Mathis and Thomas will start camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Mathis is coming off an Achilles tendon tear and Thomas a torn quad that he re-injured after suffering the same injury in 2013. Both missed last season. Thomas has played just two games in two years. They could be activated at any time in preseason, but Pagano reiterated the team will be cautious with their returns. Both are considered “week-to-week.”
— On Mathis being 34 and coming off a serious injury, how much of that is a factor in not committing to a return timeline, Pagano said, “Yes. I think we would be foolish not to consider all those things that you just talked about. Just like Vick, it would be stupid on our part just to say, ‘OK, hey you’re healthy, you’ve been cleared, throw him to the wolves,’ and to expect him to go out there and perform and take the reps that a healthy 22-year-old would take that’s been through no circumstances and hasn’t had a season-ending injury let alone back-to-back seasons. We have to be very, very smart with Robert. He knows that and we are all on the same page. Again, the lines of communication are open. We have to stick to the process and be patient because everybody is chomping at the bit. You guys are chomping at the bit, he’s chomping at the bit, we are chomping at the bit, position coach is chomping at the bit and it’s like slow down. We have a long way to go. It’s a long season.”
— On the team’s depth at running back with Frank Gore, Dan Herron, Ballard, Zurlon Tipton and rookie Josh Robinson, the coach said, “Deep, deep. Great competition. Great competition. I’m excited to see it and I bet you guys are as well.”
— Coach was asked about how quarterback Andrew Luck worked out during the summer break with his receivers, and how important that is. “It’s awesome,” Pagano said. “You are building chemistry and not only chemistry as far as throwing and catching, but building a relationship and the communication, trust and all those things. So hats off to all those guys for sacrificing whatever they gave up from a vacation stand point to do what they needed to do. I think it was outstanding. I know they got together on a couple, two or three occasions to do that stuff. It’s fantastic.”
— What went into the decision to release Cherilus with three years remaining on his contract? “You know, really every decision we make is based on two things: what’s best for the team and what gives us the best chance to win,” the coach said. “‘Gos,’ he was instrumental in the last two years and all the success that we had. He played, obviously, a vital role for the last two years and the success that we had. He’s a warrior, he’s a good football player and we wish him well. I can’t thank him enough for everything that he did for this organization. Again, we made a decision based on what’s best for this team and what gives us the best chance to win.”
— Now that Cherilus is gone, how confident is Pagano in the guys he has up front on the O-line? “We’ve got a great group. I love that room. I love their mindset,” the coach said. “The proof will be in the pudding. Starting this afternoon, we’ll start to develop the identity of not only this entire team, but that room and the offensive line. Our goal is to obviously find those five starters as soon as possible so that we can have that continuity and the communication is there.”
— Pagano gushed about how Gore and wide receiver Andre Johnson, while understated, are true veteran leaders. “They’re not going to say much. Their actions obviously speak louder than their words. They’re not afraid,” the coach said. “They are championship caliber football players and they’ve played winning football for a long time. They’re not afraid to lead when they have to lead, not only on the football field, but if they have to get in the locker room and grab a young guy and say, ‘Listen pal, we need you to do this, this and this. And you want to be a great pro, you have a ton of talent. You have great upside and the future looks very, very bright.’ I know somebody did that for them a long time ago. We’ve got a bunch of guys. Those are two guys who give personal accountability when it comes from player to player and they hold each other accountable and to high expectations and that’s something. We have a great group in that locker room.”
— Mewhort took most of the snaps at right tackle during OTAs. The coach was asked what the second-year pro’s biggest transition will be in switching from left guard to right tackle? “The good thing about Jack, he’s played them all,” Pagano said. “So he’s really a bright guy, a tough guy, a selfless guy who will do whatever we ask of him and do whatever he has to do to help this team win. Like you said, he’s got some snaps there. Obviously, he’s going to get a significant number of snaps in this training camp. I really don’t think there is any obstacle other than perfecting his craft day-in and day-out and becoming a better player each and every day.”
— The Colts signed inside linebacker Nate Irving in the offseason, but he’s coming off ACL surgery. What’s his status? “He’s like Vick as far as a PTM (Practice Time Modification) guy,” the coach said. “So, we’ll be smart with how we introduce him back into football. Right now, the plan for Nate is to come out and go through walk-through type situations, then we will evaluate him on a daily basis. As he progresses and gains confidence in a knee that’s been cleared by the doctors and all those things, then we’ll wrap up the activity when it comes to the team drills, individual.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.