As the Indianapolis Colts wrapped up mini-camp Thursday, general manager Ryan Grigson reiterated the team’s offseason approach to building the roster with an ever-conscious eye on fiscal responsibility.
After making so many splashes last offseason — with too many disappointments — the Colts have been noticeably quiet this year. Grigson realizes a new contract for quarterback Andrew Luck, expected to be in the $25-million-per-year range, will impact how the team moves forward with the cap. Owner Jim Irsay said Wednesday he will be "surprised" if a new Luck deal isn't done by the time the Colts report to Anderson University for training camp on July 26.
While Grigson doesn’t rule out adding more pieces at a later date, the Colts have focused on getting the most out of the players they have. The biggest news this offseason has been using four of eight draft picks on offensive lineman, including a first-round choice on center Ryan Kelly.
Questions abound about whether the Colts will add depth to the pass rush, which is essentially the same personnel from a year ago, when the team tied for 22nd with 35 sacks.
“I think coach (Chuck Pagano) and I are always open, but again we’re in a different kind of climate right now fiscally and how we’re doing things with this roster and even from our owner’s viewpoint of it,” Grigson said. “We’re going to look and see if anyone comes on the wire, someone maybe that coach and I feel can help us. But they also have to meet certain parameters like age and money and things like that.”
He mentioned the Colts signing safety Mike Adams later in the summer of 2014. Adams has earned back-to-back Pro Bowl selections, the first of his 13-year career.
The timing of adding a new player later means that addition must have experience and be able to learn quickly, as Adams did.
“If you do it during the summer, that guy has got to be ramped up pretty quick and it’s going to have to be when we get to Anderson,” Grigson said of training camp. “There’s going to be a learning curve there. It’s got to be the right person, the right guy, but we’ll look at everyone.”
As Pagano stressed on Wednesday and Thursday, Grigson acknowledged the Colts are “far from accomplished” and have “a lot of work to do.” But the team boss likes what he sees in many of the team’s young players.
“There’s a lot of unrealized potential and growth out there,” the general manager said. “It’s going to be up to those players to reach their ceilings because we’ve given them all the resources. I think the coaches, the coordinators are in place to do that so it’s going to be up to the players.”
The Colts lost Luck for nine games to injuries to fall far short of 2015 expectations. Wide receiver Andre Johnson, one of the big-named offseason additions, was released after one ineffective season. Offensive guard Todd Herremans started just two games and was eventually released before the season ended. A team touted to be a Super Bowl contender finished 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Although speculation ran rampant that Irsay wouldn’t retain Grigson and Pagano, the owner instead gave his head coach a four-year extension and added three more years to Grigson’s contract. Both are now signed through 2019.
The coaching staff did change, however, as 11 assistants were either fired or took jobs elsewhere. The offseason program has focused on getting players acclimated with the new playbooks implemented by offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and defensive coordinator Ted Monachino.
“I’m excited about just the whole continuity, the synergy, the energy that the new coordinators bring and you never have to worry about that with ‘Midge,’ or (special teams coordinator) Tom McMahon, ‘Midge’ as he’s called,” Grigson said. “There is really good energy and there is a lot of great communication lines between those three phases. We’re all in this together, so I think people are excited about a lot, even the current development of the players that we have out here that some of us weren’t even that familiar with that are starting to make a name for themselves out here because they’re buying in.”
Much of the AFC South analysis has suggested the Colts’ competition improved dramatically. Grigson sees that, too. The Colts have owned the division at times with nine titles in 14 years, but those days are past. The defending champion Houston Texans are now the team to beat while the Jacksonville Jaguars added several players to bolster their defense and the Tennessee Titans have rebuilt with a goal of developing a power rushing attack to take some of the pressure off promising, young quarterback Marcus Mariota.
When the Colts report for training camp, they hope to have defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle) and cornerback D'Joun Smith (knee) healthy. Eventually, defensive end Henry Anderson (knee) should also be added to the mix.
“I’m always optimistic,” Grigson said. “I’m always glass half-full in everything I do around here, but I’m also realistic and all I can do is get the information from the medical people. I’m bullish on Henry because he’s putting in the work, and Art as well. But those guys have to stay healthy and they have to be able to still produce at a high level despite what they’ve done in the past. Now is now, so guys have to produce now.”
Jones has started just three games in two seasons due to ankle injuries after signing a five-year, $33-million deal. He agreed to a $2-million reduction in his base salary to $2.5 million, although he can earn the money back through bonuses and performance incentives.
“You know what, it’s part of it to where guys sometimes get that injury bug and they’ve got to get rid of it,” Grigson said of Jones. “Sometimes it’s just plain old buzzard luck is what it is and there is nothing he can do about the things that have happened to him. I know this, Art is working his tail off. I know that for a fact. Every day I talk to everybody in the building and know which way guys are rowing and he’s doing everything he can. If we get, I think even Jim (Irsay) said, if we get a healthy Art and Henry (Anderson) in the mix here with the other guys we have that are on the come, that’s going to be a stronger position group than people think.”
Smith, drafted in the the third round last year, appeared in just four games as a rookie and hasn’t distinguished himself yet. A knee injury landed him on injured reserve and he suffered an offseason setback.
“He’s just not quite there,” Grigson said. “I think what we’re doing is trying to do everything we can to give him the best chance to be at 100 percent for camp. We push it, we push it, we push it and sometimes you have to push it to see where you are. He’s had some setbacks like coach alluded to but we’re trying to – we’ve talked to multiple people in the medical community and they’re all on the same page about it so we’ve got a lot of opinions and we feel good about our plan going forward. We’re giving him the best chance to go out and succeed come Anderson.”
The general manager was asked about 2016 being a big year for Smith.
“It’s a big year,” Grigson said. “It’s a big year for all of us.”
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