|Owner Jim Irsay has entrusted the Colts' rebuilt to Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson. (US Presswire)|
ANDERSON, Ind. -- Who is Ryan Grigson?
When the Indianapolis Colts hired Grigson as general manager last winter, it surprised a lot of people and led many to ask that very question.
But it shouldn't have. This is a guy who is 100 percent football. He came up through the scouting ranks -- he was once player-personnel director for an Arena League team -- and a lot of scouts and personnel people I respect think highly of him.
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"Grinder, loves it, works it, isn't afraid to state his opinion," one personnel man said of Grigson. "They made a good hire."
Time will tell, but if his first draft can be used as an indicator, I would say he's off to a good start. Not only did the Colts land quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick in the draft -- OK, that was easy -- but they also got him two tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen to help rebuild the offense and a speedy receiver in T.Y. Hilton.
Grigson is spending this summer on the practice field, but he's also furiously studying other rosters. As the worst team in 2011, he has the first waiver claim on players, which is huge for a young team.
He is a big, former offensive tackle from Purdue who is quite a presence, which many of his former coworkers say helped him when he fought for a player in the past. Grigson isn't afraid to go off the grid, which is good. Hiring Chuck Pagano as head coach might not have been the sexiest choice, but the two seem to work well together and seem cut from the same cloth.
I like the fact that Grigson was willing to twist the knife a bit about me picking the Colts to go 1-15 -- the first coach, general manager, scout or player in any camp to do so.
That speaks volumes to me about a guy's inner core. He is competitive. I respect that, and told Grigson so. I like a fight. He does too.
Too many times we forget about the scouts as more and more bean counters take over running teams. It's about football eyes, not Moneyball-like approaches.
You might not know this 40-year-old who came up through scouting circles yet, but you should.
The Colts have the right guy.
• Bring together all the youth. This is a young roster with just seven players left from Tony Dungy's last team in 2008. With a rookie starter at QB, it puts a lot of pressure on veterans like Reggie Wayne to help keep this team focused at times when it may wane.
• Establish the physical style that Pagano wants. He comes from the Ravens, a team that used to beat up opponents with a bruising style and the run game. That means the Colts have to change their personality from the past decade, which was a pass-first team. Do they have the makeup to handle this change right away?
• Make a smooth transition to the 3-4 hybrid defense. The Colts are changing from their 4-3 defense to one that features more 3-4 looks. That means star pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will be doing more standing up as 3-4 outside linebackers, rather than 4-3 rush ends. Expect Freeney to play a lot like Terrell Suggs did for Pagano in Baltimore. That means he will mostly be going forward, rather than dropping into coverage. Mathis will drop more.
Starting cornerback: Jerraud Powers is solid on one side but the other spot is wide open. Justin King, a former Rams starter, and Cassius Vaughn, who came over from the Broncos, are the leaders right now. There's a good chance the Colts' starting corner could be on another roster right now. Look for a lot of activity when cuts are made. Projected winner: Vaughn. But he will be challenged.
Left guard: This looks to be a battle between Joe Reitz and Jeff Linkenbach. Reitz is the more athletic of the two, but Linkenbach is a mauler. This should be a camp-long battle, with Reitz seeming to have the early lead. Projected winner: Reitz. I think he might be the better option in the long run.
Third receiver: Wayne is the top guy and Austin Collie is No. 2. So who's third? It appears veteran Donnie Avery, whose career has been slowed by injuries, has the inside track. He did have a minor injury this week that isn't expected to keep him out long. Hilton might be in the mix, but he has been slowed much of the offseason with a leg injury and is just now rounding into shape. Projected winner: Avery. That's if he can stay healthy. Hilton might have the job later in the season.
Somebody to Watch
Freeney has been one of the league's best outside rushers over the past nine years. But his play tailed off some in 2011 and he enters this season making the transition from down end to standup linebacker. But don't expect to see him dropping into coverage. This is a player who will still spend most of the game attacking the quarterback. "We know what he does best," Pagano said. At $15 million for this year, they better hope he gets there a lot.
• G Ben Ijalana was lost for the season with a torn ACL. It was uncertain whether he would push for time in the rotation anyway. The book is that he might be a bust as a second-round pick in 2011.
• DT Josh Chapman. He is on the PUP list after having knee surgery last winter. He might spend the season on IR as a rookie. Watch for him down the road, though.
• Avery. He has been having a good camp, but if he misses time it could give some younger receivers a chance to make the team.
The Last Word
Colts fans need to understand one word this season: Patience.
This is a work in progress, but in Grigson and Pagano they seem to have the right guys for the job. They are building through the draft and did a nice job in their first one.
In getting Luck, they have the most important piece. Now comes the task of getting the right people around him. It will take a year or two more, but it's sure nice to know you have the main piece in place.
As for this season, don't expect much. It's all about the future in Indianapolis -- one that looks bright with Luck.