Colts ‘take note’ of lowly status in NFL rankings

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 14: Chester Rogers #80 of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball against the Denver Broncos during the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 14, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The low-as-it-gets ranking hasn’t escaped the collective eyes of the Indianapolis Colts.

In ESPN’s post-draft rankings, they rank 32nd in the 32-team NFL.

And remember, this is a league that includes the Cleveland Browns, who are coming off the NFL’s second 0-16 season and have won once – once – in their last 35 games and are 2-41 in their last 43. The rank-and-file also includes the Chicago Bears, 13-34 over the last three seasons and without a playoff appearance since 2010, and Tampa Bay, which hasn’t reached the postseason since 2007.

“At this point, we’re focused on who we’ve got in the building and how we’re going to get better,’’ coach Frank Reich said Wednesday. “Now (there’s) really not too much time bulletin board material.

“I think we take note, but we don’t go crazy on that right now.’’

Clearly, the national perception of the Colts has reached the ho-hum neighborhood. And there’s trusty evidence for those who choose to diss Jim Irsay’s operation. It has failed to post a winning record in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1989-91 and missed the playoffs in three straight years for the first time since 1988-94. The last time the Colts endured four consecutive non-winning records: 1978-86.

It’s anyone’s guess to what degree the Andrew Luck Saga has impacted the national perception of the Colts. We would argue the roster is stronger today than it’s been since Indy reached the AFC title game after the ’14 season – even so, there’s so much work to be done – but let’s not kid ourselves. Luck’s on-field presence, even after missing an entire season, greatly increases the team’s week-to-week chances.

A fully recovered Luck, albeit one that must deal with accumulated rust from extended inactivity, means a much more competitive Colts.

General manager Chris Ballard is in the second year of what has been described as a three-year rebuilding process, but allowed his optimism to bubble to the surface last week during an appearance at a Zionsville Rotary luncheon.

“I think we’re sitting on a sleeping giant, I really do,’’ he said.

But back to that ESPN poll and the fact the Colts are holding it up.

It reminds us of 2012 when the Colts were transitioning from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck, from Jim Caldwell to Chuck Pagano, from Bill Polian to Ryan Grigson. They bottomed out in ’11 without Manning, who was dealing with his neck issues, finishing 2-14.

They headed into Luck’s first training camp with zero external expectations. The Associated Press’ offseason rankings listed Indy 32nd. The team not only noticed, it took exception and used the slap as motivation. Players wore T-shirts in camp that reflected the No. 32 ranking.

Pagano was quick to seize on motivational moments, and quickly assumed an Us versus Them stance during his first training camp.

We’ll see whether Reich follows suit. For now, he has more important issues to deal with. Foremost among them: continuing to oversee the growth of a young, revolving roster, during the organized team activities portion of the offseason program.

“It’s always an on-going process,’’ he said. “I think we do know (what we have), but you’re getting to know even more. You have a certain feeling for things. You’re looking to confirm things, but we always want to stay in growth mode. We talk about that all the time with players: you’ve got to be willing to grow.

“It’s building a relationship with someone. That’s a growing process. That’s a never-ending process and it’s actually a really fun process as well.’’

The Colts figure to head into the regular season with one of the NFL’s younger rosters, even with the presence of 45-year old Adam Vinatieri. The 90-player roster includes 22 rookies and another four players who have never appeared in a regular-season game.

There is positional competition at every turn: offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, wide receiver, running back, secondary.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,’’ Reich said. “We like the position we’re in. I like the guys we have in the room. I like the guys that are out on the field, in the meeting room, in the weight room. I like what we’re seeing.

“Let’s just put it this way: I’m very confident that the team we’re going to put on the field this year is going to be a highly-competitive team.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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