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Colts try to shed perception of finesse team

Maybe you wouldn’t expect it from these two guys in particular but, then again, maybe the fact T.Y. Hilton and Vontae Davis were the ones tangling in practice Tuesday was a good sign.

With the first padded practice of training camp, the Colts thus began their quest to create a tougher team -- mentally and physically -- and Chuck Pagano generally liked what he saw.

“Spirited practice, to say the least,” he said. “First day in pads is always going to be like that. I think this is my 33rd or 34th year in coaching, and I think this first day in pads has been the same. Now it’s about consistency. I love the competitive nature of this football team, I’ve talked about that. The guys did a great job with that today, but now it’s stacking day after day after day like that, because, like I said, the first day is easy. Everybody is fired up and ready to go. They’re not going to feel the same after a day off tomorrow and then Thursday, Friday, Saturday, what have you. 

“So, it’s about consistency, but felt like we came out here and did a good job. Again, I saw guys competing, saw guys making some plays, a lot of good things. A good inside run period – trying to develop that physicality we’re looking for and the mental toughness. And be able to – those guys got to be able to push themselves past the point where they think they can’t go anymore, and that’s what we’re doing. That’s our job is to push them and help them get there.”

Hilton and Davis tangled after some extra chatter led to pushing and shoving midway through practice, and kept up their banter the rest of the session. It certainly raised the intensity of those matchups, although it did not strain any relationships.

“Just competing, that’s all,” Hilton said. “At the end of the day, guys are going to compete. You want to show that dog. Me and him showed our dog and at the end of the day, as soon as the period was over we shook hands and talked about it. We’re just trying to get better and competing and just get guys involved.”

A few plays after the scrum, Hilton made a nice sliding touchdown catch against Davis, then leapt to his feet and tossed the ball in the air with both hands.
“At the end of the day, I had to let him know that I won today,” Hilton said with a laugh. “No, we’re just having fun. I had to score; I had to make a play.”

There has been much discussion about how this will be the most physical camp of Pagano’s six at the helm. He mentioned it during minicamp, and GM Chris Ballard reinforced it last week. With so many new faces on defense, so many young players expected to make major contributions throughout the roster, this is an opportune moment to create a more aggressive mindset, to change the team’s image.

The Colts have been considered more finesse than physical since the Peyton Manning era, and since Andrew Luck’s arrival the image of an offensively gifted but defensively challenged bunch has only been strengthened.

This image wasn’t created by Pagano, but neither has it been changed during his tenure -- and that’s one of the main reasons the fiery defensive specialist was brought here from blue-collar Baltimore.

“I think there’s a perception out there,” Pagano said, “and we have to change it.”
Not that Pagano was publicly endorsing the skirmishes between Hilton and Davis. He had to remind the team that there’s a line that, when crossed, leads to self-destruction.

“We talk to them about it all the time,” he said. “We’re going to play within the framework of the rules. You can’t fight in a game. You fight in the game; you throw a punch, you’re going to get ejected. You’re going to get disqualified. You’re going to hurt yourself. There are going to be injuries. You’re going to hurt the football team. So, you can’t do it. We all know that these things are going to happen, but guys have got to learn to control their emotions.”

One of the common traits among the veteran players signed as free agents was toughness. Jabaal Sheard, Johnathan Hankins, John Simon, Al Woods, Jon Bostic and Sean Spence all bring hard-edged, no-nonsense reputations to the Colts.

“I think they tried to bring in some more guys who have a physical mentality or a physical presence in the game,” Simon said, “and we’re trying to go out there and do what they brought us in here for.”

While Simon liked what he saw from his new team in this first padded practice, he’ll put more stock in how the Colts are able to maintain their intensity as camp stretches out, bodies wear down and minds drift.

“I think it was a physical practice today, guys were getting after it, guys were thudding-up pretty good,” he said. ‘It’s the first day you get to play football-type speed and that helps learn the defense, seeing how things are going to fit at game-like speeds.

“The first day of pads, everyone can be physical. That’s the exciting part. We’ll find out a week from here if some guys have still got that pop or not. Coming in here, you kind of already know the guys that are going to be thudding-up pretty good. We’ve got a lot of them on this team and I’m looking forward to playing with them.”


First-round pick Malik Hooker returned to practice after missing Monday due to a family matter … Another former Ohio State safety made an impression Tuesday. Tyvis Powell, who spent time with the Seahawks and Browns his rookie season, had two interceptions, one in the end zone and one in the red zone. … The players have Wednesday off before returning to practice Thursday. … The final open practice of camp will take place Saturday evening at Warren Central High.

Photo of Johnathan Hankins battling Denzelle Good by Icon SMI