Editor's Note: Because of the tragedy in Boston, we opted to hold off on posting articles like this until the evening. -Brad
The 2013 season has begun for second-year head coach Chuck Pagano and his Indianapolis Colts, and already the energetic leader who inspired many with his fight against leukemia last season is sending a message.
People understand who’s under center for us (Andrew Luck). We have a bull’s-eye on our chest now. We aren’t going to sneak up on anybody. You have to prove yourself because nobody really cares about last year."
Smart move on Pagano's part.
Whether Colts owner Jim Irsay enjoys hearing this or not, the expectations for the 2013 Colts have risen. A playoff birth in 2013 will not be enough. 11 wins will not be enough.
The Colts spent roughly $40 million dollars in cap space this offseason acquiring players many few as marginal talents. Players like Erik Walden and Greg Toler are considered by fans as "replacements" for now ex-Colts like Dwight Freeney and Jerraud Powers.
With 11 new players on the roster acquired via free agency and a quarterback in Andrew Luck who is not a rookie anymore, the 2013 Indianapolis Colts are expected to take a leap forward. A big one.
Pagano knows this, and he's wisely setting the standard early, before rookies obtained via the 2013 NFL Draft show up in two weeks for their rookie mini-camp.
"The message was, last year, when we walked in here, we were the worst team in the NFL (according to the experts)," Pagano said. "But our position was we chose to win now."
He told the 70-some players — a few of the 76 Colts under contract had personal conflicts and were unable to attend — "we did have a magical season ... and this is how we did it.’
"We went back and talked about our vision, culture, process, team; all the things that we saw carry us through a remarkable season filled with all kinds of adversity."
Two of Pagano's tasks this offseason were replacing his friend Bruce Arians - who left his offensive coordinator position in Indianapolis to become the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals - and finding a solution to Indy's porous defensive play in 2012.
Adding free agents like Aubrayo Franklin and Ricky Jean-Francois are part of the answer to the defense's issues, but not the complete solution. Pagano likely knows that replacing Dwight Freeney will not be easy, and while last year he and his defensive staff received a pass due to limitations of the roster and to Pagano's own illness, this year the excuses will be fewer and farther between.
Pagano is a defensive-minded coach with a similar background as a position coach and coordinator. 2013 is his chance to show that his scheme can work outside the friendly confines of the Baltimore.
Replacing Bruce Arians as O.C. in 2013 is former Stanford assistant Pep Hamilton.