In the list of life’s certainties, there’s death, taxes and the inevitability that NFL teams can convince themselves of anything each season.
The Indianapolis Colts were convinced they had become legitimate Super Bowl contenders last year. Most of us kind went along with it, some had their doubts (myself included). Players tried to say the right things, but most didn’t seem to mind giving their take on the topic.
Then the season started. Quarterback Andrew Luck got hurt. The Colts finished 8-8 and didn’t even make the playoffs.
The talking points haven’t been the same this offseason. Few broached the subject of Super Bowl with the players, and if anyone in my profession tried, Luck and Robert Mathis and others were quick to remind the obvious, “Look what happened last year.”
That’s a good thing. The less said about season expectations, the better. Every NFL team begins anew with goals and expectations. If a coach or player is asked, of course they’re going to say the goal is always the Super Bowl. But offseason training activities were as quiet as last year’s workouts were rather loud.
When listening to Colts owner Jim Irsay talk during the public mini-camp practice at Lucas Oil Stadium in mid-June, his comments were more measured than last year, when the boss admitted the team had great expectations.
My mind started wondering about the past and the present. I can’t help but wonder what the Colts could be convincing themselves of for 2016.
First, Irsay talked about the importance of continuity with the return of head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson. Many in the media thought they would be gone. Irsay decided to stick with both, giving Pagano a four-year contract extension and adding three more years to Grigson’s deal.
Reaction has been mixed on that surprise development. Is sure seemed like Mr. Irsay changed his mind, based on speculative news reports citing well-informed sources that both the coach and GM would be replaced. Irsay has convinced himself this is what’s best for the Colts.
Why is that? A well-informed national NFL reporter I’ve known for years told me during February’s NFL Scouting Combine that Irsay inquired about Alabama head coach Nick Saban and New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and that the price on both men was too high. While Irsay has never been shy about spending money on those he deemed worthy, I was told he saw the benefit of not paying twice as much for a head coach who would want a strong say in front-office decisions.
We’re going to find out in the next year or two if Irsay’s offseason decision proves to be the right one. There are enough Grigson and Pagano supporters and bashers out there. It comes with the job. As both men have said, they know what they signed up for when they took their jobs.
What isn’t lost on any of us who follow the Colts is the turnover that did occur after both men were kept. The Colts’ coaching staff has been overhauled with 11 different assistants. This suggests part of the problem in the past was pinned on assistants not doing their jobs well enough. Again, NFL types are always convinced that results can be achieved by “coaching up” the players better. But we also know that talent, or the lack of it, can determine just how effective the team becomes.
If the Colts don’t improve this season, more will ask questions about the future of the franchise. These will be the same questions asked as last season ended.
Part of a reporter’s job is to share what the principal people say. Don’t confuse that with our own opinions about whether the media agrees or not. So while some features are written with the suggestion that the Colts are “confident” about this area or that, analysis pieces provide reaction and perspective to what these people are saying.
We’re less than a month away from the Colts reporting for training camp at Anderson University. Between now and July 26th, I’ll analyze several aspects of the Colts roster, those perceived as strengths as well as the weaknesses.
Is the offensive line fixed? Will the defense be able to generate a strong pass rush? Will Luck stay healthy? Can Frank Gore prove he’s still a Pro Bowl-caliber back at 33? Is defensive tackle Arthur Jones going to stay on the field and show why the Colts paid him so well in 2014? Is this going to be a breakthrough season for second-year wide receiver Phillip Dorsett?
These questions and more will be asked in the coming months. And while sharing Colts comments on these subjects, the proof will come on the field and not from talk. Any time someone asks about something specific, the Colts are going to give an optimistic take because they will convince themselves that this team has what it needs to be a winner.
Remember to differentiate between the positive spin given and reality. As we were reminded last year, those two things are usually not one and the same.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.