Analysis: Colts need to be nasty

If this team is going to be tougher and more physical this season, it starts with player intensity in competitive practices.

ANDERSON, Ind. — As the Indianapolis Colts enter the final days of an abbreviated training camp, it’s clear how this summer’s experience has differed from past visits to Anderson University.

It’s been more nasty around here.

And more nasty isn’t a bad thing.

Especially not for a team that wants to be more physical and show the mental toughness it has lacked in postseasons past. The ghosts of New England trips past, that is.

So the Colts came to this quiet, little town about one hour’s drive from their Indianapolis headquarters and wanted to set a tone for not just the preseason but regular season and eventually the postseason.

We’re going to be stronger. In every sense of the word.

Whether you believe that or not, no matter. That’s what we love about football. It gets decided on the field.

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Two days into practices, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano told reporters where his head was at. And what he wanted his players to be thinking about.

“It’s all about making the other guy better and if the competition out here is fierce and the guys are competing at a very high level, and we are putting the pressure on each other and we’re stressing people and making them uncomfortable,” he said. “There has got to be anxiety, there has got to be commotion, there has got to be stuff that goes on in order to grow, in order to change. Because if it’s not tough, come Sunday we all know it is going to be.

“We love to make practice a hell of a lot tougher than the game.”

I can’t say I recall a Colts coach saying that before. Not during training camp, anyway.

Another way to do this is to challenge the respective sides of the ball to push the other. I’ve heard about the competitiveness of this camp a lot more than in the past. Quarterback Andrew Luck and his offensive weapons are looking to scorch their defensive teammates, and vice versa.

Just when some made a big deal about how Luck had not thrown a camp interception, cornerbacks Vontae Davis, Greg Toler and Darius Butler picked him off Wednesday night. The next day, the franchise player reverted to his three-time Pro Bowl form in connecting on at least three exceptional pass plays. If you watch Luck long enough, he’s going to do something impressive. Not just sometimes. Every time.

When the defense makes a play, they’re going to make noise about it. Inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson takes great pleasure in exchanging in trash talk with offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. What does that say when the team’s defensive leader is jaw-jacking with the coach calling offensive plays?

Yeah, it’s been more intense. More nasty.

Inevitably, players are getting fed up with each other. Tempers have flared. And now some players are being ejected from practice for fighting. Center Jonotthan Harrison and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles got nasty Sunday and were asked to leave. The day before, offensive left guard Lance Louis and defensive tackle Arthur Jones went at it.

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Not to doubt Pagano’s sincerity about making practices tougher than games, but today’s NFL practices aren’t as intense as back in the day. Those guys smacked each other all the time, star players, too. They toughened each other up so players were ready for a long and demanding regular season.

Today’s players “endure” a one-hour walk-through in the morning. It’s mostly just muscle memory in slow motion, to make sure minds are on the same page. The typical afternoon workout is a bit longer than in recent memory, scheduled from 1:55 to 4:45 p.m., although Pagano has been cutting that short in recent days.

The lines hit, but tacklers aren’t tackling or delivering kill shots on ballcarriers. Every now and then, someone might get a bit physical with a player — running back Frank Gore took exception to some rough stuff during a recent practice.

Say this for Gore, though. While other veterans rest, this guy gets mad when he’s taken out of a play during practice. He’s set quite the example for others.

I’d like to give Pagano some truth serum, then ask if these fights and nasty stuff are, actually, a real good thing.

Something tells me he would agree.

If he disagreed, I’d still suggest a little bit of nasty might go a long way to making this team stronger down the road.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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