By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS -- Temperatures reached well into the 80s during Wednesday's afternoon practice at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
But Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano isn't as interested in the physical demands being put on his young football team as he is in the players' mental acuity.
As the Colts reached the halfway point in organized team activities, Pagano said the best measure of players' progress is how much information is being retained. By design, the coaching staff is throwing as much at the team as possible during morning meetings and walkthroughs.
In the afternoon, its up to the players to show how much they've learned. With as many as 36 new faces on the roster, this teaching period is of utmost importance.
"From a standpoint of coming in and gelling in the locker room and learning the system from both sides of the ball between the free agents, draft choices and college free agents, everybody we've brought in here is doing a great job of picking up the information," Pagano said. "Coaches are doing an outstanding job of presenting the information to them. A bunch is sticking."
Pagano said participation in the voluntary OTAs has been outstanding. Some veterans have been excused from the workouts, but the players who have attended have been practicing with high energy.
Indianapolis has one more OTA practice this week and four next week before wrapping up offseason workouts with a mandatory mini-camp June 11-13.
It's hard to gauge the performance of a team wearing shorts and helmets, but Pagano likes what he's seen so far.
"We're making progress," he said. "Our goal is to come out here with the intention of getting better at something every day -- individually, as position groups, offense, defense, special teams, as a team. We feel like we're headed in the right direction."
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY: Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and cornerback Greg Toler were among the players sitting out Wednesday.
Heyward-Bey tweaked a hamstring during Tuesday's practice, and Toler has been suffering from a sore foot. The veteran cornerback fully participated in Tuesday's workout but was held out Wednesday as a precaution.
"We're going to err on the side of caution, especially this time of year and not push it," Pagano said. "It'd be silly for me or anybody else (to push it). They want to go. We have to protect those guys from themselves. They want to be a part of everything.
"Push him out there and force the issue with him, then have something serious happen this time of year would be not very smart on my part."
Others sitting out Wednesday's session include: safety Delano Howell, safety LaRon Landry, running back Delone Carter, safety Joe Lefeged, safety Larry Asante, safety John Boyett, inside linebacker Pat Angerer, guard Ben Ijalana, wide receiver Reggie Wayne, defensive end Cory Redding, defensive end Fili Moala, nose tackle Brandon McKinney and outside linebacker Robert Mathis.
LEADER OF MEN: Veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck could see Andrew Luck's physical talent from afar.
But it wasn't until he signed with the Colts as a free agent this offseason that he learned the second-year quarterback is just as a good in the locker room as he is on the field.
"It just comes real natural to him," Hasselbeck said of Luck's leadership. "He's got a great sense of when to pull somebody aside, how to deal with coaches, just how to treat everyone around him."
CALL OF DUTY: Army lieutenant Josh McNary still is serving out his commitment to the armed services.
The Black Knights' all-time sacks leader signed with Indianapolis in March but won't report to practice until he receives his discharge. That is expected to come by June, but Pagano said there is no firm time table.
"I've been trying to get to the highest commanders in the Army," Pagano quipped. "I'm having no success. Whenever they let him loose, we'll be happy to get him in there. Obviously, he's fulfilling his commitment he signed up for. So no update."
VETERAN PERSPECTIVE: Luck and Wayne are among the leaders on offense, but there is some question as to who will step forward on the defensive side to replace Dwight Freeney, a free agent defector to the San Diego Chargers.
Defensive end Cory Redding quickly established himself as a leader in his first year with the Colts last season. But he said a team doesn't need to have players identified as leaders to be successful.
"I have fun with my teammates, and I really engage everybody, have everybody feel like they're part of it," he said. "That's what really makes a great team, everybody just getting together and having a great time. As long as we are on one page, one accord, for one mission, you know what I'm talking about, then we'll be alright."