By head coach Chuck Pagano’s count, the Indianapolis Colts had 55 players on the practice field Friday for the beginning of three-day rookie mini-camp.
That’s eight draft choices, 21 undrafted signings, 19 tryouts and seven other players from the current roster who haven’t an accrued season and are allowed to participate.
“From an evaluation standpoint, you’re trying to figure out where they’re at from a physical standpoint; see what they’ve been doing between the draft and now and prior to the draft obviously,” Pagano said. “The mental part, we’re going to throw a lot at them from a mental standpoint and you’re going to try to figure out who can retain, who can hear it then see it on video then go out on the field, walk through it and then practice; see how well they’re able to retain the information that we’re throwing at them.
“Obviously, it’s orientation and you’re trying to indoctrinate them into what it is to be a pro football player. Being a pro, being on time, being prepared, being where your feet are meaning being engaged, being present. How to conduct themselves in meetings, how to conduct themselves in the locker room, how to conduct themselves in the chow hall, if you will. How to practice, how do you practice in just headgear and jerseys and staying off the ground and how to take care of each other. There’s a bunch of stuff to cover. Player engagement stuff.”
In other words, it’s a crash course on being a Colt.
That even includes the responsibilities of being a professional that perhaps these players haven’t realized.
“(Director of Player Engagement) David Thornton does a great job with these guys and tries to give them all the tools necessary in a short amount of time to be able to adapt to this new lifestyle that they’re living,” Pagano said. “They’ve been football players, but it hasn’t been pro football and there are a lot of other things that come with this. A lot of responsibility. Stuff dealing with social media. We know how sideways we can get with just the social media stuff so we’re going to hit, try to hit everything A-to-Z with these guys and try to get some football in as well.”
Whereas much is expected of those selected in the draft, particularly the early picks, Pagano advised the undrafted players of two examples of NFL veterans who were once in their situation, just trying to make a roster.
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, the NFL’s oldest player at 43 and entering his 21st NFL season, was undrafted out of South Dakota State. Vinatieri, who recently re-signed for two more seasons, is considered the greatest clutch kicker in league history with two Super Bowl-winning field goals in the final seconds. Known as “Mr. Clutch,” the four-time Super Bowl winner has been named to the All-Pro first team three times as well as three Pro Bowls.
Colts safety Mike Adams, 35 and entering his 13th NFL season, was undrafted out of Delaware. He’s been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons.
“We talk about the Mike Adams of the world, the Adam Vinatieris of the world,” Pagano said. “We’ve got a 43-year-old kicker that’s going to be obviously a future first-ballot Hall of Famer that was undrafted. Mike Adams is going into his 13th season, not a drafted guy.
“Keep your head down. Keep your blinders on. Control what you can control. That’s your work habits, your effort on the football field, your meeting protocol, all those things. Don’t look around. Don’t count numbers. Don’t compare. Don’t complain. Just be a sponge. Absorb as much as you can. Learn as much as you can. Whether it’s offense, defense, special teams, the more you can do. Work your tail off, be where you’re supposed to be, know your assignments and make some plays out there and good things will happen.”
Rookie safety T.J. Green, selected in the second round, spoke of how special it is to realize his dream of becoming an NFL player. That included getting his Colts gear.
“Yeah, when I first walked in the equipment room to get my helmet, I was in awe about it,” he said. “I actually have an NFL helmet and it has my name on it and it has my number on it. It’s just a special feeling for me to finally be on this level.”
Center Ryan Kelly, the team’s first-round choice with the 18th overall pick, admitted he was a bit rusty, considering his last football practice was in January while with Alabama.
“I think it’s just trying to get acclimated to the NFL the best possible,” he said of the first day. “It’s such a jump from college to being a professional athlete. I think it’s taken up, all the media classes that we’ve gotten, all the information that we’ve taken in so far, it’s been hours and hours of meetings not only just about football stuff, but how to conduct yourself as a professional athlete. I think those are invaluable, and I think everybody is taking those to heart.”
Kelly’s locker is next to the guy he’ll be hiking the football to, quarterback Andrew Luck.
“Yeah, I heard (locker neighbor Jack) Mewhort got pretty pounded last year when you guys used to come and get Luck,” Kelly told reporters with a chuckle.
Much like all the other newcomers, Kelly is still coming to grips with a lot of change.
“It hasn’t really even hit me yet that you’re playing in the National Football League,” he said. “Maybe like in the preseason game when I go out there for the first time, it’ll be pretty cool, but I think probably flying on (owner Jim Irsay’s) private jet was probably the icing on the cake. That was only an 18-minute flight, but that might be the first and last time they let me on there.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.