Pagano, Colts adjusting to 'Camp Cupcake'
Chuck Pagano did his best to mask his disdain for this stay-at-home training camp, but then he let it slip.
“It’s ‘Camp Cupcake’,” he said.
To be sure, things are much different for the players and the staff at the team’s complex on West 56th Street than they were the past few years on the campus of Anderson University. Instead of sleeping in relatively stark dorm rooms, the players are sequestered at a nearby hotel. Instead of jump on golf carts for the quick ride to the practice field, they ride over in courtesy shuttles.
They have their usual weight room, locker room and other training facilities, not to mention two plush practice fields. Perhaps most importantly, they also have an indoor practice field in the event of inclement weather. When it rained in Anderson, practices were moved into a gymnasium.
What is missing are the fans. Thousands showed up to the open practice Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. A second public practice will take place Saturday at Warren Central High. But other than that, the practices are off limits to the public because of the lack of parking and spectator seating at the complex. A couple of small bleachers have been constructed at the far end of the practice fields, but those are for special guests.
“I love camp, I love going away,” Pagano said. “But I think you have to be in a situation to where if all of a sudden these storms pop up and you’ve got to cancel practice and you’ve got to go into a gym and you’ve got to take your cleats off and then put them back on and come back outside, our you cancel one altogether. You’ve got a facility where if that happens you don’t miss anything. So there’s give and take. We have a hotel sequestered. We’ve tried to turn (the hotel) into the dorms up at Anderson the best we could.
“I think it’s a mindset. You put yourself in that mindset. Instead of walking around and riding in a cart, you’re on a shuttle back and forth. I know just being here, you’re familiar, your meeting rooms, all the stuff, the strain that it puts on the training room, weight room, equipment room to move that whole operation, it’s a huge undertaking and if you were going for six weeks like the old days, it’d be great. You’d pack up and go. But to go for 15, 16 days, what it is now? These guys have got it pretty good. I don’t know what’s going to happen down the road but they’ve got it pretty good now.”
The flavor of “Camp Cupcake” will change Tuesday, when the players don pads for the first live practice of camp. Both Pagano and GM Chris Ballard have said there will be more live sessions this year than in the past.
For at least some of the players, that’s a good thing.
“This is where it starts,” said defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins. “You can’t just think you’re going to put the pads on in preseason or the first game and think you’re going to get the job done. You’ve got to build towards that. You’ve got to have progress towards it. So we’re going to start tomorrow and see who wins the day.”
Some other highlights and observations from Monday’s practice:
>> Phillip Dorsett seems to understand the importance of this camp to his career. Not only has he made a number of highlight plays already, he has made the basic catches, as well. There are mostly positive signs from the former first-round pick who offered up only modest contributions his first two seasons.
“Phil’s not said a word, he’s just coming out here and working,” Pagano said. “And he’s got a businesslike approach to his game right now and he needs to stay right where he’s at, coming out here and working and making plays and the rest will take care of itself.”
>> Hankins, who hasn’t played defensive end since his college days at Ohio State, has been at the spot extensively the first two days of camp. With regular starter Kendall Langford (knee) on PUP, Hankins has played on the right side with Al Woods in the middle and Henry Anderson on the left side.
“I guess I’m out there sometimes,” Hankins said, being coy. “It depends on what we’re in. It’s not bad. It’s pretty good. I like it so far, just to be able to move around. Wherever they feel like I can get the job done and be productive. Right now, we’re still working things out, figuring out where everybody’s going to be at, so getting everybody a look at everything.”
>> After making his debut with the Colts in Sunday’s practice, Malik Hooker was not with the team Monday. Pagano said he was attending to a family matter. The first-round pick missed the entire offseason program recovering from hip and hernia surgeries, then tweaked a hamstring last week in a conditioning test. Still on the comeback trail, Hooker’s practice reps will be limited for the time being, once he returns to the team.
>> Frank Gore is dealing with an ankle problem that has limited his practice participation. The Colts do not appears concerned, because Gore’s workload would be light at this point, anyway. “You’ve always got to rein him in because he’s a passionate, passionate guy,” Pagano said. “You guys know that. He understands the importance of practice.”
>> Jack Mewhort hasn’t played right guard since his sophomore year at Ohio State in 2011, but that’s where the Colts plan to deploy him this season. Mewhort and Joe Haeg have swapped sides with Haeg moving to left guard. Mewhort’s strength and experience should benefit young right tackle Le’Raven Clark.
“It’s an offensive line position so I should be able to do it, and to be versatile is very valuable around here,” Mewhort said. “They made the decision, and we cross-train a lot anyways. I don’t think anything is set in stone right now, but to be able to go over and play multiple positions and switch the stagger up and move around is good for me, I think it’s good for Joe Haeg too. You can get those two long haired guys (Haeg and Anthony Castonzo) on the same side together.”
>> When told Gore was frustrated by consecutive 8-8 seasons since joining the Colts, Pagano didn’t mince words. “It’s unacceptable; 8-8 ain’t good enough. Not making the playoffs is not good enough here,” he said. “We understand what the expectations are and what the standard is. It’s why we’re here. It’s a new season, it’s a fresh start, love this team, we’ve got high football character, a bunch of guys that know how to work and we’re going to grind. We’re going to take it one day at a time and we’re not going to look down the road. All I’m worried about is lunch right now. That’s the next thing on the schedule.”
Photo of Donte Moncrief making a leaping catch at Monday's practice by Icon SMI