INDIANAPOLIS – It’s all about moving forward.
It’s about Shane Steichen getting a better grip on the roster he inherited two months ago, creating a culture that reflects the Indianapolis Colts’ youngest head coach in 60 years and installing a new offense for whichever quarterback-of-the-future is added with a top-4 pick in the April 27 NFL draft.
The trainwreck that was 2022, which is the reason the 37-year old Steichen is immersed in his first head-coaching gig, isn’t serving as a collective motivation.
“It’s all about now. It’s all it is,’’ Steichen said Wednesday, three days into the Colts’ offseason workout program. “It’s all about this year.
“Whatever happened in the past, happened in the past and we’re focused on the present right now.’’
There was Monday morning’s first meeting with the returning players. That’s when everyone was exposed to Steichen’s four pillars for success: character, preparation, consistency, relentless.
When players walked into the locker room, they noticed another of Steichen’s core beliefs stenciled on the wall: When we are connected . . . we are committed.
“The teams that play really hard for each other are really connected,’’ he said. “We kind of had that going in Philly last year, just the way the guys were, how tight-knit they were.
“I think the best teams around the league, when you create that connection part of it, it can be really special.’’
DeForest Buckner insisted he could “feel the vibe around the building.’’
It’s light years removed from the final week of 2022 when things mercifully and appropriately ended with a 32-31 loss to the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
There have been some cosmetic changes, including wall murals in the various position rooms that feature all-time Colts’ greats. Receivers coach Reggie Wayne posted the mural that looms in his position room. It features Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison and Raymond Berry as well as T.Y. Hilton, Bill Brooks and, of course, himself.
“My job is to add to this receivers room wall,’’ Wayne wrote on his Twitter account.
Move forward and do whatever it takes to return the franchise to relevancy.
Buckner sat and intently listened as Steichen addressed the team Monday. It wasn’t a new situation for the veteran defensive tackle. It was the fifth time in his eight-year career he’s had a head coach/interim coach talking about culture and commitment and yada, yada, yada.
There was Chip Kelly and Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, and Frank Reich, Jeff Saturday and now Steichen in Indy. The delivery has varied, but the message basically has remained the same.
“They’re establishing a culture of what they believe in,’’ Buckner said. “You know it’s real when they practice what they preach and they live up to what they’ve been saying starting off from the first day.
“Obviously, time will tell.’’
Added linebacker Zaire Franklin: “Much like anything, trust is something that’s built over time from him and us.’’
Wideout Michael Pittman Jr. attended Steichen’s introductory press conference in mid-February. He’s spent the bulk of the offseason in Indy – he and wife Kianna are expecting their second child in the next month-and-a-half – and has had several private meetings with his new head coach.
He’s a believer, which largely is based on Steichen’s role as offensive coordinator in the Philadelphia Eagles reaching Super Bowl LVII in February.
“I think Shane has a level of respect that he got when he got here,’’ Pittman said. “He took the Eagles to the Super Bowl, which is the ultimate goal that we’re trying to get to. Had one of the higher-powered offenses.’’
Buckner is a franchise cornerstone. He met with general manager Chris Ballard in January after the Colts completed their dysfunctional 4-12-1 season and sat down for a face-to-face with Steichen Tuesday.
“Just to get to know him more,’’ Buckner said of his meeting with Steichen. “Obviously what he envisioned and we envisioned both for this team.’’
The sit-down with Ballard has become something of an annual ritual.
The GM’s message: Just trust me.
It’s not unusual for a decorated veteran to ask for a trade or an outright release when a team is coming off a poor season and might be headed into a rebuilding season. That was the case with cornerback Stephon Gilmore, one of the Colts’ top defensive players, who was traded to the Dallas Cowboys.
“That’s the decision he made for him and his family,’’ Buckner said.
When he and Ballard met, “there was never any talks about being traded or being released or anything like that.’’
That’s why Buckner was surprised when it was mentioned on social media the Colts were open to trading him.
“I mean, it’s the offseason,’’ he said with a smile. “People like to make headlines . . . click-bait. I just thought it was funny.
“I woke up actually one morning and had two different guys from different teams text me and they were like, ‘Hey, man, is it true? You can come over and play with me.’ I was like, ‘Man, what’s going on right now?’’’
He quickly checked Twitter.
“I was like, ‘Wow,’’’ he said. “I guess I was trending a little bit, so I thought it was funny. I sent out a little tweet letting people know I wasn’t going anywhere.’’
That’s because there’s work to be done, and Buckner is one of the Colts’ few difference-making players.
He bristled a bit when it was mentioned the franchise might be headed into a rebuilding season. Again, the Colts agreed to part with one of their defensive standouts (Gilmore) and are committed to finding a quarterback at the top of the draft who’ll undoubtedly need time to develop.
“I hate that word,’’ Buckner said. “Rebuilds are definitely a process.’’
San Francisco selected him with the No. 7 pick in the 2016 draft as part of its rebuild: 2-14 as a rookie, which resulted in Kelly being fired, 6-10 in 2017 and 4-12 in ’18. In Buckner’s fourth season, the Niners went 13-3 and reached the Super Bowl, where they fell to Kansas City.
“I was a younger player so I was kind of able to buy into those tough years,’’ said Buckner, 29. “Yeah, as you get older, rebuild is definitely a word you don’t want to hear.’’