AFC South: Robert Mathis
The streaking Indianapolis Colts will try to win their sixth game in a row on Sunday when they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers. Slowing down quarterback Andrew Luck will be the Steelers' priority, and they have to find a way to minimize his impact or score enough to keep pace with the 5-2 Colts. Beating Indianapolis would give Pittsburgh a 5-3 record at the halfway point of the season as well as a signature win.
ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the 4:25 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field.
Brown: Mike, the Steelers’ passing game has been torched by the likes of Mike Glennon and Brian Hoyer this season. The Steelers' pass rush has been average, and they are suspect in the secondary. That is not a good formula for stopping Luck. What is the best way to contain him, if that is possible?
Wells: Blitzing Luck is the best way, but that appears to be a problem for the Steelers. Luck has done an exceptional job of spreading the ball around this season. He is not just focusing on receivers Reggie Wayne or T.Y. Hilton. Luck had back-to-back games where he completed passes to nine different receivers this season. His biggest problem, though, is interceptions: He is tied for third in the league in that category with seven. The Colts have survived Luck’s miscues so far, but they won’t be as fortunate once they get to the playoffs and face teams that can make them pay for their mistakes.
The Steelers are a tough team to figure out. One week they get blown out by Cleveland, and then they come back and use an incredible performance in the second quarter to beat Houston. What is Pittsburgh’s identity?
Brown: Mike, I can’t figure out this team quarter to quarter, much less game to game. The defense certainly isn’t the one that people are accustomed to seeing. There is no intimidation factor, no swagger, and the Steelers are really just trying to get by defensively as they retool a unit that is in transition. The Steelers have the potential to forge a personality as a dynamic offensive team, as they have the NFL’s leading receiver in Antonio Brown, the second-leading rusher in Le'Veon Bell and, of course, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers have moved the ball this season, but they have too often bogged down in the red zone. Maybe scoring three touchdowns in the last three minutes of the second quarter Monday night against the Texans will serve as a springboard for the offense. It had better put up a lot of points against the Colts if the Steelers are to beat one of the NFL’s hottest teams.
I normally don’t associate the Colts with the kind of defense they played in absolutely stifling the Bengals on Sunday. Is Indianapolis' defense underrated?
Wells: It is very underrated. I didn’t think this defense had a chance once linebacker Robert Mathis, last season’s sack leader, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles. The unit appeared to be headed for a rough season after it had only one sack over the first two games. But defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has taken a hold-nothing-back approach with his defense. With two cornerbacks who can blanket receivers, Greg Toler and Vontae Davis, Manusky is loading the box and constantly blitzing. That is why the Colts have 20 sacks and nine turnovers during their five-game winning streak. They have also held their past four opponents to 4-of-41 on third down. People might not have respected the Colts' defense before, but now teams have to take notice.
The Steelers have a history of being a good defensive team. They are 15th in the league in yards allowed a game. Are they on the decline defensively?
Brown: That is a great question. The Steelers have to hope it doesn’t get any worse defensively, or they could be in trouble. They have some promising young players to build around in rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier and rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt. But the Steelers have serious questions at outside linebacker, especially if 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones doesn’t develop into a pass-rushing force. Cornerback is also an issue, a position at which the organization has not drafted well or neglected, depending on your vantage point. Cortez Allen is the Steelers’ best young cornerback, and he recently lost his starting job to Brice McCain. Allen has the physical ability to develop into a No. 1 cornerback, but the 2011 fourth-round pick has to become more consistent. It could get worse before it gets better on defense, given some of the holes that the Steelers have tried to spackle over by moves such as coaxing veteran outside linebacker James Harrison out of retirement.
The Colts seem like they have something going with Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw at running back. Richardson seems to be playing much better than he did last season. Is part of the reason that Bradshaw has eased the pressure on Richardson to carry the Colts' ground game?
Wells: Richardson might never live up to the expectations as being the No. 3 overall pick in 2012, but he is running better than he did last season, when he eventually was demoted. He is running with more confidence and making better decisions. Having Bradshaw has been a blessing for Richardson because he doesn’t have the burden of carrying the load in the backfield. Neither player has a problem sharing the work, and it helps that Bradshaw is familiar with sharing the load in the backfield. He went through it while with the New York Giants.
Brown looks like he could surpass the 1,499 receiving yards he had last season. What makes him so successful, and what type of challenges will he present to the Colts’ secondary?
Brown: I thought Brown would have a really tough time matching his production in 2013, when the fifth-year veteran set a Steelers record for receiving yards in a season. He has been even better this season and has scored five touchdowns after reaching the end zone eight times in 2013. Brown is an excellent route-runner, makes tough catches in traffic and is dazzling after the catch. The Colts will have to limit the damage Brown does after the catch, and I would imagine they will do everything they can to take him out of the game. But no team has succeeded in doing that, even though a reliable complement opposite Brown has yet to emerge.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
The Colts will have a solid running combination if -- and we’re saying if until proven wrong -- Richardson can bounce back from a poor first season in Indianapolis and Bradshaw and Ballard can stay injury-free. Havili, a fullback, gets the edge over Mario Harvey, who switched from linebacker to fullback during offseason workouts.
The final receiver spot will come down to Rogers and Griff Whalen. If the Colts want to play it safe, Whalen is the guy because he’s familiar with Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, but Rogers has the size and speed the team likes. There’s also the possibility of the Colts keeping six receivers.
TIGHT ENDS (4)
Allen, who missed all but one game in 2013, and Fleener have the potential to be one of the top tight end duos in the league. Doyle and Saunders are both familiar with the system after backing up Fleener in Allen’s absence last season.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
- Khaled Holmes
- Hugh Thornton
- Jack Mewhort
- Anthony Castonzo
- Gosder Cherilus
- Donald Thomas
- Joe Reitz
- Lance Louis
- Xavier Nixon
There are plenty of questions surrounding the offensive line outside of tackles Castonzo and Cherilus. The one thing general manager Ryan Grigson wanted with this group is depth. The Colts have plenty of it.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)
Like the offensive line, the Colts want depth on the defensive line so they can constantly rotate in players, so come the fourth quarter they still have fresh legs to get after the opponent. Jones was the key offseason acquisition for the Colts. Chapman showed flashes last season; now he needs to do it every snap that he’s on the field.
- Robert Mathis
- Erik Walden
- D'Qwell Jackson
- Jerrell Freeman
- Bjoern Werner
- Andrew Jackson
- Jonathan Newsome
- Daniel Adongo
- Henoc Muamba
- Josh McNary
All eyes will be on outside linebacker as the Colts look to find a replacement for Mathis, who is suspended for the first four games of the season. Werner gets the first crack at starting in Mathis’ spot. McNary is a player for whom Grigson has high expectations. It’ll be up to defensive coordinator Greg Manusky on how he uses McNary.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)
- Greg Toler
- Vontae Davis
- Darius Butler
- LaRon Landry
- Delano Howell
- Mike Adams
- Sergio Brown
- Josh Gordy
- Colt Anderson
- Loucheiz Purifoy
It’s anybody’s guess how the secondary will perform. It’s anybody’s guess who will start alongside Landry at safety. It looked like it would be Howell for most of the offseason, but the Colts signed the veteran Adams in June. Can Toler finally remain healthy? Can Davis live up to his contract? So many questions with no answers at the moment.
This only changes if an injury occurs.
Wells: You can't count out Ahmad Bradshaw based off how he played in his brief time on the field before getting injured last season. ESPN NFL Insider Jim Trotter had an interesting nugget recently. He wrote on Twitter that Trent Richardson, according to coaches, is relying more on his instincts when running instead of thinking it through and he has a chance to be a "three-down player." I'd say at this point -- and mind you, so much can change over the next few months -- that you have to think Richardson and Bradshaw are the frontrunners.
@MikeWellsNFL who do you personally think to be the starting running back for the Indianapolis Colts next season? How does TR look?— Mason Ross (@Sauce_Ross) June 19, 2014
Wells: The outside linebacker position is simply Bjoern Werner's to lose. Play well and the starting position is his. Struggle and it'll be open competition for Robert Mathis' spot during his absence. You can't really get a good indication on how a player looks based off drills where they're not wearing pads or going full speed. A better indicator will be once the pads go on in training camp.
@MikeWellsNFL How's Bjoern Werner looking? Does he look ready to take on an increased role with Mathis out?— Tommy Bond (@TommyN_Bond) June 19, 2014
Wells: Donte Moncrief will be given the opportunity to be the Colts' fourth receiver, but don't be surprised if he's not a major contributor next season. Here's what offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton had to say about Moncrief during minicamp. "He is big, fast and smart. He has the tools to be a legitimate down the field threat. He's been working his tail off with [receivers] coach [Charlie] Williams to learn the offense and more importantly, develop continuity with our quarterback. He's done some good things over the course of the offseason program and expect that he'll pick up where he leaves off in training camp."
@MikeWellsNFL is moncrief more of a project guy or do you think he is actually going to contribute other than ST?Longterm starter potential?— Nathaniel J. Ford (@n8james4d) June 19, 2014
Wells: Second-round pick Jack Mewhort. The offensive lineman is capable of playing all five positions on the line. A positive for Mewhort is that he moved ahead of Lance Louis and was working with the first unit by the end of offseason workouts. The competition for that starting spot will intensify in training camp once Donald Thomas starts practicing. It'll be Louis and Thomas as the two primary players pushing Mewhort for that starting spot. Wells: The Colts have about $13.7 million in salary cap space left. Colts GM Ryan Grigson said a number of times earlier in the offseason that they didn't plan to use all their salary-cap space because they'll have to pay players like Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton at some point down road.
@MikeWellsNFL biggest impact from a rookie this year?- Nate Walton (@realnatewalton) June 20, 2014
Wells: That's strictly up to Daniel Adongo. Practice well and play well in the preseason and he'll have a chance to get on the field in a game. The opportunity will definitely be there early in the season when linebacker Robert Mathis is serving his four-game suspension. Playing time at Mathis' position is far from set. It's up to Adongo to prove he deserves to get snaps. Wells: It's way, way too early to tell if Ahmad Bradshaw can stay healthy. Teams don't wear pads during offseason workouts, and even then, Bradshaw joined the quarterbacks and fellow running back Trent Richardson by wearing a red non-contact jersey. Bradshaw's health was the only thing that stopped him from being the Colts' starting running back last season. Bradshaw and Richardson were the only two running backs of three expected to push for the starting spot to take part in offseason workouts. Vick Ballard, the third, is still working his way back from a torn ACL.
@MikeWellsNFL What is the likelihood that we see Daniel Adongo playing on defense this season?- Steve Mosley (@SMosley21) June 20, 2014
That's an understandable message from Pagano considering the Colts had three players get in trouble in the summer of 2013.
Receiver LaVon Brazill and tight end Weslye Saunders were suspended by the NFL for violating league policies. Saunders was released and later re-signed. Safety Joe Lefeged was arrested in Washington.
The last thing the Colts need is anymore more negative headlines since owner Jim Irsay (arrested) and linebacker Robert Mathis (suspended) have already given the franchise some unwanted attention this offseason.
"If you look at, every year we get the stats at the owners' meeting when guys happen to make bad choices and this is usually the time of year where the volume of that goes up," Pagano said. "We talk to them daily about it, it doesn't matter what time of year. They do have to make great choices and it's all about protecting the shield and protecting the shoe. If we make a decision, any decision, ‘Is this going to harm the shoe and harm the name on the back of my jersey?' I trust our guys. We've got good character guys and they'll make great decisions."
Let's take a look at several things to pay attention to during the camp:
Running back competition: Just like the battle for the starting guard position, we won't get full competition for the starting running back position because Vick Ballard (knee) isn't expected to take part, as he's still working his way back from ACL surgery. Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw, the other two primary candidates, both wore red non-contact jerseys during OTAs. So this is another competition that won't pick up until training camp. All three players will get playing time, but keep in mind that coach Chuck Pagano said earlier in the offseason they want a workhorse in the backfield.
Landry sighting: Safety LaRon Landry has been the most significant healthy player missing during OTAs. It's not required for players to attend OTAs and Landry prefers to work out on his own during the offseason. But it still would have been good if he would have popped in for some of the workouts because of the need for improvement for the defense, the transition from a seasoned veteran in Antoine Bethea to possibly Delano Howell, who lacks significant experience, and Landry simply didn't have a great first season with the Colts. The offense, as long as Andrew Luck is the quarterback, will be fine. He's shown he can be effective even without good blocking. The same can't be said about a defense that finished 20th in the league last season.
The Bjoern factor: The fact linebacker Robert Mathis (suspension) won't be with the Colts the first four games of the season has definitely sunk in. Now it's up to second-year player Bjoern Werner, who gets the first shot to start in Mathis's absence, to prove he was worth the Colts selecting him in the first round after an inconsistent rookie season. "This year it's just knowing the defense and to feel comfortable in the defense," Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. "Now it's just his ability to get to the passer, which it's kind of you want him to do that in these OTAs, but he's never really going to get there because you don't have the pads on. But he's been doing a great job at least from the calls and signals and getting everything lined up and knowing exactly what he's supposed to do. It's a great situation for him."
Can Adams help: The Colts signed veteran safety Mike Adams over the weekend to take Corey Lynch's spot on the roster after placing him on injured reserve. Howell is leading the race to start, but Adams has started 73 games in his career. The question about Adams is: Does he have enough left in his 33-year-old body to help the Colts and possibly supplant Howell as the starting safety alongside Landry?
Who won't be there: Barring a sudden change of events, here are the players -- not including those on injured reserve -- you won't see taking part in minicamp. Receiver Reggie Wayne (knee), Ballard (knee) and Thomas (quad, bicep).
There's still plenty of time between now and Sept. 7 to determine who will join D'Qwell Jackson, Erik Walden and Jerrell Freeman in the starting lineup at Mathis' linebacker spot.
Second-year linebacker Bjoern Werner is getting the first crack at starting in those four games.
"All the young pass-rushers have to step up," he said. "We don't know who the guy is, everybody is seeing opportunity and everybody is just trying to replace him for the first four games."
Werner, who missed three games last season with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot, had 18 tackles and 2.5 sacks during his rookie season. Like Mathis did in his first year under coach Chuck Pagano's 3-4 defensive scheme, Werner had to make the adjustment from being a defensive end in college to being an outside linebacker. He has spent the offseason getting stronger.
Werner will be pushed by Daniel Adongo, Cam Johnson, Andy Studebaker and Jonathan Newsome for playing time at outside linebacker with Mathis out.
"I prepare the same way before the whole situation with Robert came out, and I'll keep preparing the same way," Werner said. "I feel great, I've had a great offseason and just seize the moment. Hopefully I'm the guy, but that's coach's situation."
The media will be able to watch practice and have access to the players Thursday.
Here's a quick look at five interesting things to pay attention to during the OTA's:
Race for top running back spot: Vick Ballard reminded everybody that he was the Colts' starting running back before a torn ACL cut his second season short. Ballard is in the running with Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw to be the team's workhorse in the backfield. Richardson is coming off a disappointing first season in Indianapolis and Bradshaw, like Ballard, had his season end early because of an injury (neck). All three will get a chance to carry the ball if things go as envisioned for offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, but only one of them will carry the bulk of the load.
Reps for Holmes and Luck: This is the time for Colts new starting center Khaled Holmes and quarterback Andrew Luck to work on their continuity. Holmes will try to do something former starter Samson Satele couldn't: Lead the offensive line. "The center-quarterback exchange really starts everything, probably the most elementary fundamental part of a play," Luck said. "I know when you fumble one, it stinks and we pride ourselves on making sure we get 100 percent of those, which we will no matter which center-quarterback combination is in the game."
Replacing Mathis: Suspended linebacker Robert Mathis is able to take part in all of the team's offseason activities, but I wouldn't be surprised if other linebackers, especially Bjoern Werner, get first-time reps. Mathis is allowed to be around the team until his suspension starts in Week 1, but this is the time the Colts need to allow players like Werner to get as many of the snaps with the rest of the starting defensive unit to allow him -- or whoever the starter will be -- to get comfortable. There's no replacing Mathis' 19.5 sacks, but the Colts need to do what they can to at least tread water while their defensive leader is away.
Delano time: Speaking of continuity, this would be a good time for Delano Howell, who has the inside shot at the starting spot, and LaRon Landry to work on their chemistry at safety. But Landry has spent most of the offseason working out on his own like he often does. This is a time, though, for Howell to cement the starting spot since the Colts put their faith in him by not drafting a safety or signing a marquee one during free agency.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis stood at his locker Wednesday afternoon and spent several minutes talking to the media for the first time since being suspended by the NFL for four games for violating the league's drug policy.
Mathis apologized to his teammates and told them, "Sorry, and I’ll be back."
His teammates accepted his apology and remained confident in one of their leaders.
"I know who he is," Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. "I have no doubt the kind of person, the kind of character, what kind of man he is. Robert is a man. He owned up to his mistake.
"He addressed us, first and foremost, as a family. That’s what we are, a unit, a team. As long as we have his back -- and he knows that -- then everything else will work out."
Mathis is allowed to participate in all offseason workouts, as well as preseason practices and games, while suspended. He'll miss the Colts' first four regular-season games and is eligible to return the day after the Sept. 28 game against Tennessee.
As they’ve always done when they lose a teammate or coach for a period of time, the Colts said it’s the "next man up" to fill the void in Mathis’ absence.
"I understand [the suspension is] all set in stone, so there’s nothing you can say or do that’s going to change anything," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "I know we’re not wasting our breath talking about it. We realize the circumstance. We realize we’re going to be without our best player, probably, for the first four games.
"Guys are going to have to step up. We’ll manage, we’ll do our best, and I think we have a lot of confidence in a lot of guys in this locker room and this building to pick up the slack."
For so long, being in the "horseshoe" family meant staying out of trouble, proudly representing the organization and being a part of their winning tradition.
Mathis immediately released a statement following the announcement of his suspension that said he tested positive for a fertility drug. He and his wife are expecting a daughter in the fall.
The mistake Mathis made, which he acknowledged in the statement, is that he failed to check with the NFL or the NFL Players Association to see if what he was taking was illegal.
That's a mistake players should not make, especially a veteran like Mathis.
This is the second straight year that the Colts will be missing a player at the start of the season. Receiver LaVon Brazill and tight end Weslye Saunders were suspended for the first four and eight games, respectively, for not following the league's substance-abuse policies.
Indianapolis isn't done with being disciplined.
Commissioner Roger Goodell still has to determine how he will handle Irsay following his arrest for allegedly operating a vehicle while intoxicated in March. He faces four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance. Irsay took part in the team's draft last week and will be in Atlanta for the NFL owners meetings next week after spending time in a rehabilitation facility immediately following his arrest.
There's little doubt Goodell will discipline Irsay. In March, during the league's owners meetings in Orlando, Florida, Goodell said the Colts owner is subject to league discipline for his arrest but would wait "to understand the facts" before making a decision.
The Colts will be able to get by without Irsay if Goodell fines and suspends him as expected because the franchise is in capable hands with general manager Ryan Grigson on the football side and chief operating officer Pete Ward on the business side.
The same can't be said about the Colts' defense without Mathis.
If facing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles in the first two weeks of the season wasn't difficult enough already, now Indianapolis has to figure out a way to slow down those two offenses without the player responsible for 46 percent of their sacks (19.5) last season. Mathis, the heart and soul of the defense, will also miss games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.
The Colts' image and aspirations to take another step in the AFC next season took a hit they couldn't afford to take Friday.
Newsome started his college career with the Buckeyes but transferred because he was "living it up a little bit too much" at Ohio State. He missed spring practice in 2011 because of academic problems.
New school, same troubles for Newsome.
He was suspended two games at Ball State after being arrested in August 2012 for marijuana possession when a bag containing marijuana was found in his wallet. He was also held on a warrant after an incident in November 2011 when he and a teammate were accused of shoplifting.
"My mother's always been supportive of me," Newsome said. "Even when I did mess up, she was always there for me. And my head coach from high school, coach [Ted] Ginn [Sr.], was always there in my corner. When I messed up, he got me back right, got my focus back right and all my priorities straight.
"There were times when there was doubt, but ultimately, I was mentally tough enough to overcome all that stuff, and now I'm just sitting here and I'm an Indianapolis Colt. I can't even explain how crazy that story is, to go from almost getting kicked out of school to being an NFL draft pick, graduate. Everything's looking up and I'm going to continue with this success. I don't plan on having any more bumps in the road."
The Colts did thorough research on Newsome, and, just like he was with the media Saturday, he was just as honest to team officials when he met with them.
"If you lie, you’re dead to us," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said.
Newsome had 116 tackles (26 for a loss) and 16.5 sacks in his two seasons at Ball State.
"The tape doesn’t lie," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "It’s out there and the guy is a football junkie. It’s his whole life, and he’s a four core special-teams guy, and he embraces that. He loves that. It’s hard. As you guys know, it’s hard to find pass-rushers, and the way our league’s going, you can never have enough of them, so we feel great. As the board was getting plucked away, we were sweating bullets."
Former Colts general manager and current ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian said Newsome has "Robert Mathis-like ability."
"I think that’s a good comparison," Newsome said. "We ran multiple fronts at Ball State. We ran 4-3, we ran 3-4, we ran a lot of nickel. When we ran 3-4, I was an outside linebacker. I stood up a lot. When we ran a 4-3, I stood up on the edge. I can do all that stuff."
Mathis, like Newsome, came out of a small school -- Alabama A&M -- and he's turned in what should be a Hall of Fame career. Mathis has 111 career sacks.
"I’m going to be his little brother. He doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to be like his little brother," Newsome said. "I’m going to learn from [him]. I watched him all last year. We have similar builds.
"I can’t wait to learn from him. He led the league in sacks last year. That’s what I love to do -- sack the quarterback. Why not learn from the best?"
Well, sort of.
“I’m not going to pigeonhole by saying he’s an inside guy or an outside guy,” Pagano said. “He brings position flexibility to our front. He’s a sub-rusher on third down. He can give you inside push, he can beat guys one-on-one. He has sack numbers for an inside guy.”
Pagano was Jones’ defensive coordinator during his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2011. Jones went from having 20 tackles and zero sacks his rookie season to having 53 tackles and four sacks last season, and now he’ll try to be just as effective in Indianapolis.
“He’s really matured as a young man,” Pagano said. “He knows our scheme. Terminology won’t be an issue. It’ll be a seamless transition for us.”
Pagano’s goal is to have a defensive front that has players who can play multiple positions so that they can constantly rotate them in so in the fourth quarter they’ll still be relatively fresh. Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, who missed part of last season with a foot injury, can play on the end.
The Colts were abysmal at stopping the run last season, finishing 26th in the league in that category, and linebacker Robert Mathis had 19.5 of their 42 sacks.
“You can never have enough defensive linemen,” Pagano said. “We roll those guys all the time and try to keep them fresh. If you can play with six, seven guys in the defensive front by the time fourth quarter comes around and everybody is still fresh, it’s going to play to your advantage.”
The Colts currently have seven defensive linemen on the roster: Montori Hughes, Ricky Jean Francois, Arthur Jones, Fili Moala, Jeris Pendleton, Cory Redding, and Josh Chapman.
The questions, just three of them I might add, were sent via email to the Indianapolis Colts general manager.
"In the middle of free agency, I felt like I had a homework assignment due," Grigson jokingly wrote after answering the questions.
That mindset was a necessity for Grigson when he took over for the fired Bill Polian in 2012. The Colts were coming off a 2-14 season after which they not only dismissed Polian, but also said their final goodbyes to quarterback Peyton Manning after 14 years, 11 playoff games and two Super Bowl appearances.
So the rebuilding process couldn't take long for Grigson, the first-time general manager. Not with holdovers like Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea used to winning.
Grigson is headed into Year 3 of not rebuilding the Colts, but building off the success the franchise has had in the past two years.
They're 22-10 and made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, while dealing with the loss of coach Chuck Pagano for 12 games while battling leukemia in 2012 and the loss of five offensive starters last season.
"The element of surprise kind of goes away when you have such high expectations," Grigson said. "This is a winning organization and the bar is set high. I think that kind of environment is a healthy one for everyone involved. I'd hate to be somewhere that your expectation was anything less than being Super Bowl champs every year."
Grigson and Pagano walked into the perfect situation.
Andrew Luck, the best quarterback taken No. 1 overall since, well, Manning in 1998, led an impressive Colts 2012 draft class that also included receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.
Grigson's obsessive, always-needing-to-be-working mindset is in high gear because the Colts are in position to take another step in the AFC next season. Manning and New England's Tom Brady are a year older and moving another step toward the Hall of the Fame.
Now it's up to Grigson to add the proper pieces around Luck. This is the perfect time for the general manager to redeem himself after his 2013 offseason moves didn't live up to expectations.
"No matter the circumstances, the last two years we expected to be in the Super Bowl and believed in that goal until the last tick came off the clock," Grigson said. "Year 3 will be no different; we just have to find a way to see it all the way through."
Indianapolis went into free agency on Tuesday with the fifth-most salary cap space.
Just like in Green Bay, players want to play in Indianapolis despite the small-market mentality some have about the city.
Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who the Colts signed to a four-year deal on March 6, was attracted to the franchise's history of success. That's understandable after he spent his first eight years in Cleveland, where that organization appears to be just spinning in circles.
Pagano is more than a coach to the players. He's the person who will ask a player about his off-the-field life nearly as much as he talks about offensive and defensive schemes.
"Having a sitdown dinner with him, I knew right away he was a good guy," Jackson said. "We barely talked football. Any time you can do that, you know you're dealing with a good guy. He's been through a lot in his life, obviously. The guy is high on life and I want to be around people like that."
Luck's arm, legs, smarts and mental toughness are the main reasons why the transition from the Manning era hasn't been too turbulent. It's also why Indianapolis is an organization that will remain a destination for free agents as long as the kid from Stanford is taking the snaps from center.
Former New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks has already publicly talked about wanting to catch passes from Luck.
"First of all, winning makes you an attractive team," punter Pat McAfee said. "But I think the chance to hitch your wagon to an up-and-coming, hopefully Hall of Fame quarterback, which [Luck] should be, I think that's a big deal for a lot of the older guys that are looking for a ring, or maybe for the younger guys that are trying to jump-start their career. I think Indianapolis is becoming a very, very promising-looking destination for a lot people who want to win and hitch their wagon to a player who's going to be great for a very long time."