By MICHAEL MAROT – AP Sports Writer
WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts donned their helmets and pads on Tuesday and quickly returned to work.
For the first time since suffering one of the most bitter defeats in recent franchise history, their focus was on football. No, they weren’t hitting full speed, no one was keeping score, and there were no skirmishes to report since the first full practice of training camp.
But after spending nearly seven months reflecting and rethinking what went wrong on that disappointing day in Jacksonville and considering their next moves, Colts players have finally made a fresh start.
“It’s different,” quarterback Matt Ryan said, referring to the addition of pads. “The level of intensity, the way things happen around you when there’s real contact, it all starts today. It’s important, but it changes and you have to adapt to it, get used to it.
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Ryan is still acclimating to his new team, which was evident as the defense took over most of Tuesday’s red zone drills.
While the 2016 league MVP wasn’t around for Indy’s embarrassing 26-11 playoff loss in January, he understands.
In 2017, Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons returned to training camp answering similar questions as they tried to rebound from an epic Super Bowl meltdown against New England. Atlanta has won just one postseason game since losing the 28-3 lead.
The comments also look awfully familiar.
Three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard has urged teammates to let the sentiment “burn” throughout the offseason. Defending NFL champion Jonathan Taylor said he spent those months fixing the flaws he saw on tape to avoid a repeat. And when two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner showed up, he didn’t mince words.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” he said. off season, off season team activities, we mentioned it then put it in the back view, moved on and onward.
The reminders linger though.
General manager Chris Ballard responded to Indy’s inexplicable collapse by trading Carson Wentz to Washington and replacing him with Ryan, a four-time Pro Bowler with a friendly personality and a penchant for leading.
Ballard also acquired former Pro Bowl defensive end Yannick Ngakoue in a deal with Las Vegas, reuniting Ngakoue with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, before signing free agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore. the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
All three moves are seen as significant improvements.
Reich even changed the training camp schedule after an eighth straight opening day loss and a 1-4 start last year. He moved back the typical start times for mid-morning to mid-day training in hopes of a better start to the season.
“You’re always looking for ways to improve,” Reich said. “We just give guys a little more rest, let’s start a little later in the day, just the quality of sleep, right? For these guys, sleep is important, so let them get some sleep. longer and make sure they get the amount of rest, so when we train we can be high speed, high running and high execution.
So far it seems to work.
Although Indy missed Leonard’s energy on the field as he remains physically unable to play after back surgery in June, there were plenty of exciting plays on Tuesday.
Whether it was Gilmore covering rookie receiver Alec Pierce near the sideline, linebacker Bobby Okereke breaking up a pass or Taylor making a cut that impressed Ryan, the large crowd helped create a different atmosphere from last week when the Colts first showed up at the Grand Park complex in suburban Indianapolis last week.
“It’s football, football is played in pads and you really have to focus on run-fits, tackles and all those sorts of things that matter,” said new safety Rodney McLeod. “It was very competitive and that’s what you want to see.”
The question now is whether it will make a difference when Indy opens its season Sept. 11 in Houston or in their home opener Sept. 18, the long-awaited rematch with Jacksonville, which has won two of its four wins over the past two seasons. against India.
“I know everyone is going to be asking about Jacksonville for a while because it’s been five months now and you’re still thinking about how this might happen with the team we had,” said said starting center Ryan Kelly when asked in June about last season’s finale.
“I think as much pain as there was last season, the way we started it and ended it, I think with some of the signings we have, I think it turns into a lot of motivation.”
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