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Colts rebuilding from bottom up

New regime happy to have Luck to step in at QB for Manning

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

7:35 PM CDT, August 27, 2012

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INDIANAPOLIS — No matter what it is labeled, this is rebuilding in the most classic sense.

Close your eyes at the Colts facility, and you can almost smell two-by-fours and fresh paint.

A new coaching staff has overhauled the way the Colts practice and prepare.

For the first time in 14 years, there is a new offensive system. For the first time in a decade, there is a new defensive system.

New general manager Ryan Grigson sits behind Bill Polian's old desk.

Players who appeared in a combined 18 Pro Bowls have been purged, most notably the great Peyton Manning.

Only 12 Colts remain from the team that went to the Super Bowl after the 2009 season.

Of the 90 men who came to camp, 63 of them were with the Colts for the first time, and 40 of them never had appeared in a regular-season game.

The locker room has been rearranged.

There is a new slogan. "Trust, Loyalty, Respect" is written beneath the horseshoe in the Colts weight room.

There are new T-shirts. "Building The Monster," they say.

Despite the tear-down, the Colts still have a foundation every other team would love to have.

Maybe never in the history of the NFL has a franchise been so fortuitous as Indianapolis, where Manning has passed the baton to Andrew Luck. And because of the presence of Luck, the first pick in the draft, these Colts might have a chance to surprise some people.

The Colts certainly are not writing off the season. Just Sunday, they traded a 2013 second-round pick to the Dolphins for flashy cover corner Vontae Davis from Illinois.

Luck, meanwhile, has been everything the first pick of the April draft was supposed to be.

And more.

"By all accounts he obviously was a very bright guy," Grigson said. "But it's been amazing to see his football IQ, the way he devours information and then regurgitates it almost as fast as he takes it in. That's probably been the most eye-opening thing."

Luck has been flustered by nothing, poised about everything. No one is suggesting carving his bust for the Pro Football Hall of Fame just yet, but if ever anyone were born to fill the shoes of Manning, it is Luck.

The son of former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck has high expectations, and he believes the standards set by Cam Newton and Andy Dalton last season are not unobtainable.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself to raise the standard of play each week," he said.

He also sounds like he will put some pressure on his teammates.

"I may be very naive in saying this, but we are not going in there to lose any games," Luck said. "We'd love to make the playoffs and have a chance to win the Super Bowl. That's the reason you practice, regardless of how old, young or inexperienced your team may be."

The Colts are so inexperienced that the new coaching staff has installed the new offense and defense six times. Typically, a team has three such installations.

There is much to learn here because there are so many new players, and also because the holdovers were set in their ways. Veterans Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, for instance, have been 4-3 defensive ends in a Tampa-2 defense their entire careers. Now both are being asked to play outside linebacker in a pretty complex 3-4.

Asked how many exhibition games would be optimal for his team, new coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, citing the youth, said he'd like to play 10.

He was kidding.

We think.

In order to make his new team more like his old team, Pagano brought in three Baltimore imports — safety Tom Zbikowski, defensive end Cory Redding and defensive tackle Brandon McKinney.

Pagano and his staff will need all the help they can get to make the Colts competitive quickly. This could be the kind of team that is better in Week 17 than in Week 1. And to that extent, the Bears might have caught a break by being first up on their schedule.

"There will be a curve," Pagano said. "We know we're going to have some hard days. But we also know the foundation of what we have is solid."

The Colts couldn't finish all of their reconstruction in just one offseason. There are questions on the offensive line, at receiver — beyond Manning's old buddy Reggie Wayne — and on defense.

So they will be relying heavily on the arm of luck and the leadership of Pagano.

"I think leaders are born," Grigson said. "Chuck has that. He knows how to identify with each and every guy out here. Just like he did with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and then with rookie free agents he had that he turned into players. There is such a vast array of guys he is able to reach."

It's good to know Pagano has a lot of tools in his belt. He is going to need them.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei