When the Indianapolis Colts made headlines earlier this week by the reported imminent hirings of former linebacker Cato June and safety Mike Mitchell to the team’s coaching staff, (and that franchise wideout great Reggie Wayne could soon be joining them), my initial thought was that this is a team clearly looking to improve its locker room leadership.
(And in a way that simply isn’t just jettisoning incumbent starting quarterback Carson Wentz this early offseason).
All three of those players were at worst, pretty good NFL players.
While I may be jumping the gun on Wayne here a bit, the trio played in a combined 31 NFL career seasons—which is a testament to their hard work, practice habits, perseverance, and production.
By all accounts, all three are ‘butt kickers’ too, and I’d call it something else, but my fear is that there might be an impressionable youth reading this—and I don’t want to be the one adding to their early vocabulary in the vulgarity department.
Let’s start with June, a former 2003 6th round pick of the Colts, who was initially thought to be too slow to play safety at the pro level—his collegiate position at Michigan, yet found a home in Tony Dungy’s undersized, yet speedy defense as a ‘Tampa 2’ outside linebacker. He worked his tail off to become an eventual starting linebacker on a Super Bowl Champion defense, an NFL 2nd-Team All-Pro, and NFL Pro Bowler.
Then there’s Mike Mitchell, a 2009 second round pick of the Oakland Raiders, who when you watched him, there was nothing special about him athletically. Yet he lasted 10 NFL seasons playing one of the league’s most physically demanding positions and did it by you guessed it, practice habits, as well as smarts, toughness, and sure tackling.
Lastly, there’s Reggie Wayne and while #87 was a former 2001 first round pick, Wayne was never the most athletic player at his position when playing. He was incredibly productive though by his impeccable practice habits, sweet hands, and attention to detail when route running—plus a knack for making the clutch catch in big moments.
Mitchell was regarded for his veteran leadership when playing with the Colts in 2018, as he helped mentor young cornerback Quincy Wilson, who had been in the coaching staff’s ‘doghouse’, and credited Mitchell for ‘saving his season’—using film study and practice habits to make a positive impact:
“It starts in the film room,” wrote former IndyStar writer, now The Athletic’s Zak Keefer. “Mitchell forced Wilson to spend an entire game week by his side. ‘Whatever he’s doing, I’m doing it too,’ Wilson said that season. ‘I’m in his back pocket.’ “Mitchell showed him his Tuesday film routine, his Wednesday film routine, his Thursday, his Friday, his Saturday, all the way up to kick-off on Sunday. They were at the team facility until 9 p.m. some nights, Mitchell offering Wilson – as well as other members of the secondary – an intimate look at what’s helped him last a decade in the league.”
. . . ‘He taught me how to break down offenses in a way I just had no clue about,’ Wilson said. ‘This is what I needed. I was looking for an example. I wanted to know how it was done. I tried it my way. That wasn’t working.’
While Wilson’s Colts career unceremoniously ended when the former 2017 second round pick was traded for a 2020 6th round pick that later became cornerback Isaiah Rodgers, the early signs that Mitchell would eventually become one heck of a defensive backs coach some day soon at the pro ranks did not.
And the same likely is true for June, as well as Wayne—who was instrumental in the early development of fellow Colts wide receiver great T.Y. Hilton, as Wayne passed on the lessons that he had learned from Hall of Fame wideout Marvin Harrison from the start of his own Horseshoe career:
“For me, whatever (Wayne) taught me, make sure I’m teaching everybody else, because it’s only right,” Hilton said back in 2015. “Marvin (Harrison) did it with him (Wayne). He did it for me. Now, I gotta pass on the torch.”
What we also know is that the Colts lacked leadership to finish the 2021 season right—failing to win either of the team’s last two games to earn a playoff spot (including an embarrassing blowout loss against literally the league’s worst team)—and looking sluggish from start to finish in both games:
What happened at the end of the season??— ️at McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) February 10, 2022
"When we started winning games we thought that we made it.. I had a bad feeling heading into the last few weeks because of the vibe that I was getting" ~@dsleon45#PMSinLA #ForTheShoe pic.twitter.com/PbaxcgRKCJ
If Wayne eventually joins the group, the Colts will have brought in three ‘grinders’, guys who aren’t going to let the team’s players take the easy way out but do what is required to win as many football games as humanly possible.
There’s no quit.
There’s no give up.
Not until that final whistle sounds.
Everything is earned.
To me, it’s a Colts team, who in a somewhat subtle way, is looking to improve its locker room leadership by hoping those three former proven NFL players (or warhorses) can impart some hard earned ‘life lessons’—and quality practice habits on its current players, who could withstand to soak up a thing or two, or twelve.