By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — It would have been easy for second-year general manager Ryan Grigson to rest on the success of his debut season.
The Indianapolis Colts exceeded all expectations in 2012, improving from 2-14 to 11-5 and earning an AFC Wild Card playoff berth.
But Grigson needs only to look at the wall full of banners commemorating past championships at the team's indoor practice facility to understand he can't let up.
"We want to build off that," he said as Thursday's final mini-camp practice began at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. "We set the bar high. Our owner sets the bar high. We expect greatness."
To that end, Grigson imported 11 veteran free agents from other organizations this offseason, and a team that lost a first-round playoff game to the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens last January could have as many as eight new starters.
It's part of an overall philosophy preaching competition.
Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano believe the way to get the best out of the team is by looking to improve each and every day. Whether that means getting extra reps after practice — as several players did when Thursday's session ended some 45 minutes early — or bringing in fresh talent to raise the level of competition in practice — as Grigson did Tuesday with the signing of veteran running back Ahmad Bradshaw — it's a process that never rests.
"I feel like any time you take your nose off the grindstone or you stop and smell the roses, it's not far after that that you're out of this league," Grigson said. "I feel that's the mindset. It's a blue-collar mindset. How can we tell the players to adhere to that kind of thinking and way of life if we're not doing it at the top?"
Veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne is fully onboard.
The 34-year-old is entering his 13th season in the NFL, but he said he still thinks like he did as a rookie.
"They trying to find somebody to replace me," he said. "So I gotta show them what's up. I gotta make that a hard decision for them. So I gotta think like a 20-year-old. I gotta feel like a 20-year-old. The day I stop feeling like that, that's the day I'm gonna put my cleats in gold. You know, I'm gonna hang them up."
The Colts hope that day doesn't come anytime soon.
Wayne is coming off a 1,355-yard season, and he's had at least 1,000 yards in eight of the past nine years. The lone exception — in 2011 — saw him fall just 40 yards short despite playing with three different quarterbacks in the wake of then-starter Peyton Manning's neck surgery.
Compared with that ordeal, learning a new offense this offseason should be a snap.
But Wayne said new coordinator Pep Hamilton is installing a complicated scheme, and players have no room to rest during their off time until training camp begins July 27.
"That's what we've been teaching the last two or three days, the whole mini-camp," Wayne said. "When you leave here, you don't go on vacation. We're a young team. We've got a new offense. This is not the offense where you can take a break. We really gotta stay into it, stay in tune to what's going on, stay in that playbook. Guys are doing great right now, in the right path, but we want to make sure we stay that way."
Wayne plans to gather several offensive players together at the University of Miami — as he did last offseason — to keep the learning and bonding process flowing.
League rules prohibit the Colts from holding any more formal practices before training camp begins. But there's no rule against informal get-togethers like the one Wayne has planned.
"You gotta stay in the mental part," Pagano said. "You gotta stay in the physical part. You can't just stop. As coaches and as players, if you get totally away from it, you're going to come back and you're going to be lost. You don't want to come to training camp and use training camp as a means to get in shape. You don't want to use training camp as a means to relearn the playbook."
Pagano said he is happy with the work his players put in this week. He saw progress beginning with the final three days of organized team activities last week, and the Colts continued to build on that momentum. The only thing that can derail a successful training camp and start to the season, he said, is an off-field distraction.
Toward that end, he told the players to make "great choices" during their time off and spend time catching up with their families.
The next six weeks will be a chance for everyone in the organization to recharge their batteries and get prepared for the long grind ahead. But the work of Grigson and his scouts to improve the team, and the effort put forth so far by the players, has many people anxious to get the real season started.
The team provided a preview of things to come during an open practice at Lucas Oil Stadium on Wednesday night, and it left even the general manager excited about the future.
"Seeing some of this team's speed, seeing the size of our team now, it's markedly bigger, stronger and faster than it was last year," Grigson said. "It's exciting because you want to see it with the pads on. That's the whole deal. This is excellent to get a little bit of a taste, but this is a very, very small taste of real football."