No one embodies that philosophy more completely than safety Delano Howell. The Stanford product spent much of last season on the practice squad with the Buffalo Bills before being claimed late in the year by the Colts. He made just one regular season appearance and needed a strong preseason just to make the 53-man roster this summer.
Howell was inactive for the first two weeks, then got a surprise start against San Francisco when LaRon Landry wasn't able to play because of an ankle injury.
In the past two weeks, he's made six tackles and deflected two passes playing in tandem with veteran free safety Antoine Bethea.
"I just credit a guy like Delano, that since he's been here he's done everything we've asked him to do from a physical standpoint, from a mental standpoint," Pagano said. "He takes his job very serious, and he prepares. So it's no surprise to any of us that he's able to go out and play pretty good. If you put the time in and you study your opponent, you practice hard, chances are you're going to play well on Sunday."
Howell is far from alone.
Inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard filled in for Pat Angerer against the Niners, and defensive end Fili Moala — a former starter — ably replaced Ricky Jean Francois in Jacksonville.
On the offensive line, rookie Hugh Thornton — who spent much of the preseason learning to play right guard — has stepped in at left guard for Donald Thomas, who is out for the year with a quad injury. Mike McGlynn has moved over from right guard to center in place of Samson Satele the past two weeks, and utilityman Jeff Linkenbach has made two straight starts at right guard.
When running back Vick Ballard was lost for the season to a knee injury, general manager Ryan Grigson acted quickly in trading for 2012 No. 3 overall draft pick Trent Richardson. But holdovers Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown have shone brightest in the past two outings.