NEW ALBANY — The start of the Indianapolis Colts’ regular season is more than two months away, and already the NFL franchise is trying to get fans across Indiana fired up about the new era of Colts’ football.
On Thursday, the Colts inspired the Southern Indiana faithful by making their sixth stop during the Colts Fan Fest tour at the Riverfront Amphitheater.
The Colts had two of their cornerbacks — Jerraud Powers and Cassius Vaughn — signing autographs at the Fan Fest along with a few of the Colts’ cheerleaders.
“The fans are the NFL, so without them we wouldn’t be who we are,” said Vaughn, who the Colts acquired in a trade with Denver last month. “You have to come out and support them. Whatever they need us to do, we should go out and do that. It’s an automatic that you give back to the fans.”
According to Colts’ marketing manager Joe Fonderoli, the Fan Fest is one of the ways the Colts show they are a statewide team.
“We definitely feel we are just not an Indianapolis team. We want to be the team for the whole state of Indiana, and obviously outside of that as well,” Fonderoli said. “We try to get out as much as we can and reach out to the fans.”
The Colts have been going through several changes since they posted a disappointing 2-14 record last season.
The biggest change was at quarterback.
The Colts drafted Stanford signal-caller Andrew Luck as the top overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Luck replaces future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, who signed as a free agent with Denver in the offseason.
Luck, who has yet to sign a contract with the Colts, participated in the team’s mini-camp earlier this month and impressed several of his teammates, including Powers.
“He’s a natural-born leader — you can tell that from the first time he walked into the locker room,” Powers said. “He’s definitely a guy with a lot of passion for the game. He’s going to be good now rather than later. I think he’s going to be a great fit.
“He has all the athletic tools to be a great quarterback and I think he’s going to be a great one.”
During the mini-camp, Powers, Vaughn and the rest of the Colts got to know their new head coach, Chuck Pagano, and several new assistant coaches.
“They have a lot of confidence, a lot of knowledge of the game and a whole bunch of swagger,” Vaughn said. “The confidence in this group of coaches that we have is something that I’ve never been around. They have the expectations of being the best on defense. They’ve brought in a ‘we are going to get it done’ mentality.”
Powers thinks Pagano is the right guy to help the Colts rebound from last year’s dismal campaign.
“Coach Chuck is definitely a players’ coach,” Powers said. “He’s a lot of fun. This is his first go-around as a head coach, so it’s all new to him also. I think he’s done a tremendous job of getting guys to buy into the system, and he’s kind of making it clear what’s being asked from the players and what to expect from the coaches. I think he’s a great fit for Indianapolis.”
Pagano, who served as the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator last season, brings to Indianapolis a new defensive scheme. The Colts, who have used a 4-3 scheme in the past, will be using a 3-4 hybrid set this season. The new scheme will have former All-Pro defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis playing more linebacker.
Even though Powers’ responsibilities remain the same in the new defense, he thinks it will give the Colts’ front seven a chance to raise havoc.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for the guys on the front seven to make a lot more plays,” Powers said. “If those guys are playing well in the front seven, it usually makes our job on the back end much easier. I think it’s going to bring a lot more opportunities for a lot more guys to make a lot more plays.”
Vaughn played in a similar system during his first year in Denver. He thinks the Colts’ new defensive scheme will be beneficial to his new team.
“It’s fun,” Vaughn said. “The front seven are going to have a lot of opportunities to make a lot of plays. Our defense should be a lot more aggressive than it has been in the past.”
The Colts will report to training camp in Anderson on Saturday, July 28. They will open the regular season on Sunday, Sept. 9 at Chicago. The Colts’ home opener will be Sunday, Sept. 16 against Minnesota.
2012 COLTS’ SCHEDULE
Sept. 9 at Chicago 1 p.m.
Sept. 16 Minnesota 1 p.m.
Sept. 23 Jacksonville 1 p.m.
Oct. 7 Green Bay 1 p.m.
Oct. 14 at N.Y. Jets 1 p.m.
Oct. 21 Cleveland 1 p.m.
Oct. 28 at Tennessee 1 p.m.
Nov. 4 Miami 1 p.m.
Nov. 8 at Jacksonville 8:20 p.m.
Nov. 18 at New England 1 p.m.
Nov. 25 Buffalo 1 p.m.
Dec. 2 at Detroit 1 p.m.
Dec. 9 Tennessee 1 p.m.
Dec. 16 at Houston 1 p.m.
Dec. 23 at Kansas City 1 p.m.
Dec. 30 Houston 1 p.m.