By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Chuck Pagano said there was one simple reason he added former Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski to his staff this offseason: The move will make the Indianapolis Colts a better football team.
"We had an opportunity to add another piece to the puzzle which makes our team better, gets us one step closer to our ultimate goal, and that's hoisting a Lombardi and hopefully participating in Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix," Pagano said.
There's no doubt Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson believe they're close to achieving that goal. The two men took the podium at Lucas Oil Stadium for back-to-back media sessions Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine with a certain sense of urgency.
"Our team as a whole, it's Year 3," Grigson said. "It's time for everybody to bring their A game. So everybody's got to be at the top of their game this offseason because we have high expectations."
That type of thinking was the basis behind Chudzinski's hiring. There had been fears the former Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator might butt heads in Indianapolis with Pep Hamilton.
But Pagano said "Chud" will have his hands in all areas of the team and won't simply focus on the offense.
"We won't pigeonhole him and say he's this, that or the other," Pagano said. "Really bright guy. Good football coach. Got a great background. Well-versed in a ton of areas. Again, he's going to be a great resource for everybody in the building."
Much of the Colts' focus this offseason could be internal. There are tough decisions to make on free agent cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Antoine Bethea.
And Indianapolis is looking for improvement from wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers, inside linebacker Josh McNary and outside linebacker Daniel Adongo — youngsters who were acquired late in the process last year and did not go through a full offseason.
"We got glimpses of what those guys are capable of, what they can do," Pagano said. "Another great offseason with all those guys, the future looks bright for all of them."
Grigson said the same about a much-maligned group of free agent additions. Safety LaRon Landry, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois and cornerback Greg Toler each were slowed by injuries at some point last season.
But the Colts retain high hopes for all three players.
"Landry, before he got hurt, was leading the league in tackles," Grigson said. "He was all over the place and came in and made some key plays in key games. He's got to be more comfortable in this defense. He's got to make that commitment this offseason, and he's going to, to be the player we know he can be.
"Ricky Jean, against Arizona, had a few sacks. He had a good game against Denver, and then he came back at the end of the year and he was playing on one leg. That's out of our control. Same with Toler. But at least those flashes are there. Those guys need to turn those flashes into consistency."
Healthy returns from wide receiver Reggie Wayne, offensive guard Donald Thomas and tight end Dwayne Allen also would help. And the Colts continue to believe running back Trent Richardson — who cost this year's first-round pick — can be more productive in his first full season with the team.
Indianapolis has just four draft picks but will be some $33 million under the salary cap. With big contracts coming due for young stars Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton and others in the next few seasons, Grigson said it will be important to spend prudently.
"We still have a plan in place," he said. "And if there's a chance for us to get better at any position, we're going to try to get better, if it makes sense from a fiscal standpoint for the club."
Following an 11-5 season that ended with an AFC South championship and a loss to the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs, Indianapolis believes it's ready to take the next step.
"We know the expectations are going to be high," Pagano said. "That's where we want them. That's the conversation we want to be in."