This offseason Jim Irsay, one of the league’s most endearing, strange owners did the unthinkable: he dismissed one of the league’s greatest talent evaluators and let a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback walk. He imploded the roster of beloved veterans choosing to start fresh with a new general manager, quarterback and coach. Some have questioned his intentions as well as his intelligence. Some openly despise Irsay’s choices. For many he also opened the door for those who began to question his legacy.
This weekend Irsay talked to the media at Colts training camp about this transition, the team’s recent past his new franchise quarterback and other issues.
Many fans were concerned that the quality of individuals that replaced those veterans whose locker room presence defined the team over the last decade would be impossible to match. Irsay addressed those concerns when asked about Tony Dungy’s visit to camp as well as the cues Coach Pagano is taking from the iconic former Colts head coach. He made it perfectly clear the team still believes in the approach Coach Dungy instilled in the team as well as his veteran’s ability to lead:
I think there’s a few guys like Robert and Dwight and Reggie and Antoine obviously that he knows but there are a lot of new faces. I think when you see the turnover that’s happened and the changes it’s great to see some of those veterans that are around here that understand the traditional way of things. No excuses, no explanations. The type of accountability our veteran players have carried in our program through the years. It’s been really unprecented I think–in the top of the league in terms of that kind of leadership.
While veterans will lead the team Irsay also noted that like Peyton Manning in 1998 he has high expectations for Andrew Luck. For many fans Irsay’s lasting legacy may hinge on this decision. Those same fans will naturally compare Luck to Peyton Manning yet Irsay started the conversation:
Going back and remembering Peyton when he was 22 years old and how that begins–it’s something where you get to know the family quite well, his parents, two sisters and brother I’ve had a chance to meet. Andrew’s an incredible young man. I was alot closer in age to Peyton when we started. I was 36 and he was 22. Now 53 and 22! The franchise quarterback when they come in keep getting younger. Tremendous young man, so much similarities to Peyton as everyone knows.
Irsay also took time to acknowledge those veterans are key to the chemistry of this team as well as the final record for this Colts team. He noted the returning players from last year along with new defensive tackle Cory Redding and the newly re-tooled offensive line as he mentioned his expectations to be better than expected:
We want to have a chance to compete, have a chance to be in the playoffs, to have a chance to win games and do things that people predict you can’t do. Everyone knows when you go with a rookie quarterback it’s tough but there’s been some cases with Andy Dalton last year who played extremely well. The more difficult thing with Andrew is the whole team is being rebuilt because of age and injury and salary cap as well.
Despite the reluctance to admit the team is rebuilding he’s pretty high on the chances that a fast defensive turnaround in the works. After Houston’s success transitioning to the 3-4 last year Irsay believes the defensive unit will provide Andrew Luck with better support than the team provided Manning in 1998:
Defensively there’s a much stronger group around and a veteran group around. Of course it’s picking up both new offenses and defenses. We’re hopeful that Houston picked it up pretty quick with Wade’s scheme when they went to the 3-4 and were successful. We want to surprise people and we want to have a chance to win games this year and be thinking about the playoffs in December still.
It’s clear from his comments that he not only believes in those he’s hired, signed or drafted but believes in them enough to justify the painful, sweeping transition this offseason has brought. He shows no signs of fear or concern for his legacy because he so strongly believes this team can and will win–he’s just waiting for the rest of us to catch up to his reasoning.
[Special thanks to Nate Dunlevy and Bleacher Report for providing access to this media session! Please follow Nate’s coverage of the AFC South for Bleacher Report and his awesome training camp reports.]