Colts want hitting at camp to be more than fashion statement

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano will take results over style every time.

So rather than adopt the NFL’s new kinder, gentler image, Pagano has made the retro training camp look fashionable again.

Suddenly, hitting has become hip; mixing it up is what all the cool guys do, and those who have a nasty streak are in big demand. It might be just what the Colts need to get back to the playoffs.

“This is a grown man’s game. It’s a physical football game, obviously, and a physical sport,” Pagano said. “You’ve got to practice it. If you don’t practice it and you can’t tackle on defense, you’re not going to be a good defense. So we’re putting an emphasis on it.”

No, it’s not like the old days when players spent six or more weeks living inside a college dorm and often worked out in pads twice a day, banging heads just to get in shape. But it sure isn’t like more recent Colts camps, either.

Fewer players take extra days off. Wearing pads has become the norm. Players eagerly test the limits.

Last week, there were three minor skirmishes among receivers and cornerbacks, one of which prompted Pagano to throw out two undrafted rookies for taking things too far.

The additional hitting continues to show up in positional drills and live team workouts such as the six third-and-1 plays the Colts ran Tuesday morning.

The old-school environment has become the talk of camp.

“You can never be physical enough, unless you’re scoring a touchdown on every play,” left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “I’ve never heard of an NFL team doing that, so you can always be more physical.”

Despite trying to change their image for years, little has worked.

Even after winning two AFC titles and a Super Bowl crown, the critics contended the Colts were “soft” — a reputation was reinforced by the more recent struggles.

In 2016, Frank Gore ended Indy’s eight-year drought without a 1,000-yard rusher and its 61-game streak without a 100-yard rusher. Still, the Colts finished 25th in rushing.

Indy’s defense, meanwhile, was 25th in the league in third-down conversion percentage allowed (41.5) and had just as big a challenge even getting to third down, winding up with a league-low 193 third-down attempts.

First-time general manager Chris Ballard thought his best move on offense was to let the young linemen develop together. On defense, he beefed up the defense’s front seven in free agency and the draft, and then chatted with Pagano about how to send the players a clear message at camp.

“Look, it’s hard to be a physical team if you don’t want to have a physical training camp,” Ballard said before players reported. “I think it really comes to light when you get into November and December. Having a physical training camp, me and Chuck have talked a long time about this, and he’s in agreement, it doesn’t mean we’re tackling to the ground every day. What it means is we’re going to have a few more live sessions than they’ve had in the past.”

The question is whether the changes will make a difference?

Indy’s first test comes later this week when the Detroit Lions are in town for two days of joint practices. They meet again in Sunday’s preseason opener.

But the Colts have talked tough before and seen the results fade away like a passing fad. This time, they’re looking to do more than put on a good show.

“We’ve got physical guys who love to hit and I think you can see that out here because it’s gotten a little chippy out here at times. You should be competitive, you should want that,” safety Darius Butler said. “We’ll get more physical and then we’ll see what we produce.”

NOTES: Indy has signed former Florida State receiver Marvin Bracy, who competed last year at the Rio Olympics. Bracy was a three-time U.S. national champion in the indoor 60-meter dash. To make room for Bracy, the Colts put receiver Harvey Binford on the waived-injured list.

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