WESTFIELD — Jim Irsay stopped short of any grand predictions for the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.
But the owner — who is entering his 25th season in charge of the franchise — made little effort to contain his enthusiasm during a brief meeting with the local media.
Asked directly if his team has what it takes to make it to Miami for Super Bowl LIV in February, Irsay answered in the affirmative.
“It does,” he said. “I don’t think we shy away from that, but we also know — and (general manager) Chris (Ballard) and the coaches say the same thing — you’ve got to be confident. You have to have confidence, but it’s tempered with the fact that there’s so much that has to happen.
“What I’d like to see us do, and it’s not essential, but it surely would be helpful, is to see this team get homefield advantage. You get two games away from the Super Bowl, and hopefully they’re both home games — at least one of them are. You get the bye week. That is a huge advantage, big advantage.”
Irsay has had consistently high praise for Ballard and second-year head coach Frank Reich.
In just two years, the Colts have almost completely rebuilt from the 4-12 disaster of 2017. The healthy return of quarterback Andrew Luck obviously played a major role, but the depth and competition on the roster already has been evident through the first three days of training camp.
That’s Ballard’s area, obviously. Reich’s contribution comes through his ability to get all 90 men to buy into the same mission.
He’s preached tunnel vision focused on the task at hand, and that helps the team deal with the super-sized expectations it’s facing this summer.
“It’s really just an outstanding team we have there with those two men leading us,” Irsay said. “And it surely makes my job a lot easier from some days gone by.”
The goal for all involved is consistency.
Reich talked about it Friday in micro terms, pointing out it isn’t enough to click for just three or four consecutive plays and then suffer a lapse.
Irsay spoke a day later with an eye on the big picture.
He’s been around some outstanding teams during his time in Indianapolis, and he believes the franchise is entering a new era of sustained success.
If it can stay on the right path.
“I made T-shirts up a decade ago that said, ‘don’t let the good be the enemy of the great.’ Because that’s what we’re looking to be,” Irsay said. “It’s not a commitment to excellence. Excellence means, by Webster’s dictionary, very good. What we want is a commitment to greatness, which means you distinguish yourself as a single team standing.”
Saturday marked the first practice in full pads, and the defense came to play.
The front seven, in particular, was extremely active. Several helmets surrounded the ball carrier on nearly every running play, and the defensive linemen took turns getting to the quarterback on passing downs.
Tight end Eric Ebron admitted afterwards the offense had been whipped. But he quickly set his sights on getting even in Sunday’s session.
Second-year defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was happy with what he saw but was typically measured in his praise.
“I thought the guys went hard,” he said. “I thought they executed well, and just various battle positions and stuff like that, I think it’s going well. The guys are really focusing on their job. We don’t have a whole lot in right now. It’s only the third day of install. So we’ll see how it goes.
“Some of the younger guys are still working on what to do and not necessarily how to do it, in terms of technique and fundamentals. But that’s a normal progression.”
Reich said early in the week the Colts have done studies that show the majority of soft tissue injuires occur during the first seven-to-10 days of training camp. In response, the team has worked extra breaks into the schedule.
On Saturday, four veterans received a planned day off — Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, left tackle Anthony Castonzo and defensive lineman Margus Hunt.
Defensive end Justin Houston and safety Clayton Geathers were among the players who returned to action after a scheduled day off Friday.
Defensive ends Jabaal Sheard (knee) and Kemoko Turay (shoulder) were among those who sat out.
PLAY OF THE DAY
On a day dominated by the defense, Houston made one of the most memorable plays.
The former Kansas City Chiefs star ran a stunt from his outside position and surged through the middle of the offensive line to come face-to-face with quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
It’s as close to a sack as it gets in training camp, and the Colts hope it’s a sign of things to come from the four-time Pro Bowl defender.