Tribune Star Correspondent
Just when the Indianapolis Colts needed him the most, Chuck Pagano is back on the sidelines.
It's not that interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians did a bad job.
After all, Arians led the Colts to a 9-3 record since Pagano took a leave of absence after being diagnosed with leukemia.
Additionally, Indianapolis clinched a playoff spot after posting a 20-13 win over Kansas City last week.
But with Pagano now back in charge, the Colts -- who are dinged up heading into Sunday's regular-season finale with Houston -- have a chance to be re-charged a bit.
“I think give or take, it’s really just getting everything back to normal. For the most part, I think everybody in the building is just happy to have him back on an everyday basis, back on the practice field with us," safety Antoine Bethea said during a teleconference interview Wednesday.
"We just want to keep things rolling like we’ve had but an added sense of happiness with Chuck (Pagano) being back.”
Pagano joked that he had a little more bounce in his step than the rest of the coaching staff and players during his first full practice back with the team.
"That’s what he said earlier, ‘I’ve got a little bit of step [after] laying around [while he underwent chemotherapy treatments].’ It’s just good to have him back, laughing, joking and cracking jokes," Bethea said.
"It’s just good to have him back there. Of course, at the end of the year, guys are banged up now but we’ve got to fight through that and bring another ring back to Indy.”
One thing is pretty certain. The Colts will not be resting any starters during the Houston game.
"We’re going to approach it just like we approached the first three and then the way they approached the last 12. Take it one week at a time, one game at a time," Pagano said Wednesday.
"It’s a 16-game regular season, this is the last one on the schedule. We all would love to win 11 games and that’s our goal and that’s our focus, the Texans obviously and getting [win] number 11.”
The decision to go all out for Houston may have come as a surprise to some observers, But it shouldn't have.
“That’s just not in our DNA. From day one, we had a week and we set goals for ourselves and just watching what this team has done over the course of the last 12 weeks and the entire season. It’s just not in our DNA, it’s not in our makeup," Pagano voiced.
"These kids deserve it, their families deserve it, our fans in this city deserve our best every game regardless of the situation and regardless of the circumstances. They’re going to roll a ball out there and it’s our job to go out there and try to win a football game.”
Even though the Colts have registered 10 wins this season, the play on the field has proven to be inconsistent.
"You want to win. You want to win at home. You want to go into the playoffs with momentum. Regardless of how this team has gotten to the point that it’s at right now, being 10-5 and made the playoffs, we want to keep the momentum going and we want to keep these young guys coming on because they just keep getting better every week," Pagano explained.
"To rest guys so to speak or pull back right now or I frankly don’t think we have the numbers just doing the numbers and counting the guys, to rest anybody.”
Weather issues -- The Colts practiced as scheduled Wednesday although the snowy weather very nearly changed those plans.
"We were thinking about maybe moving things up like we do on Thursday and have the walkthrough and then go right to practice and possibly get them out of here and get them home," Pagano explained. "But the way the weather is and the reports that we got, it’s actually better to keep the schedule the way that we had. So [we went] go normal today."
Pro Bowl selections -- Wide receiver Reggie Wayne and outside linebacker Robert Mathis both earned spots on the AFC team for the annual AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, which is scheduled for Jan. 27 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, however, did not make the roster. Denver's Peyton Manning, New England's Tom Brady and Houston's Matt Schaub were selected as the AFC's quarterbacks. Luck is expected to be named as an alternate.
Wayne has caught a team-leading 102 passes this season for 1,315 yards and five touchdowns. Mathis, meanwhile, has 45 total tackles with a team-leading eight sacks, two passes broken up and one forced fumble.
It will be Wayne's sixth time in the Pro Bowl and the fifth for Mathis.
Injury list -- Sitting out Wednesday's workout were running back Delone Carter (ankle), center Samson Satele (ankle), nose tackle Antonio Johnson (ankle), center A. Q. Shipley (knee), and defensive end Cory Redding (quad).
Inside linebacker Kavell Conner (hamstring), safety Tom Zbikowski (knee) and offensive tackle Winston Justice (biceps) all saw limited work. Wide receiver Donnie Avery (shoulder), inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (thumb), and quarterback Andrew Luck (knee) all fully participated in the workout.
Carter and Satele have been ruled out of Sunday's game with Houston. Everybody else who either missed practice or saw limited work will be game-time decisions.
“As you know, we’ve got a few guys that have been down and won’t be available. Delone Carter and Samson [Satele] are still on the mend and will be out. We have some other guys Donnie [Avery] and (Antonio Johnson] and Cory [Redding)]and Kavell [Conner], but they’re going to be day-to-day," Pagano said.
"Those first two I mentioned would be the only two and then everybody else we’ve just got to keep an eye on and see what they can do and see how they progress throughout the week.”
Zbikowski and Conner, who have both been sidelined for the past several games, should be good to go against the Texans.
“Yeah, absolutely. They’re going to start. Tommy actually started to get some work last week on Wednesday and then decided after Wednesday that it wasn’t quite ready and kept working on the card team, the show team for the offense when they were up," the Colts coach said.
"Kavell has progressed really well and they’re going to throw him into individual drills today and we’ll mix him in sporadically throughout practice and get him a few reps here and there and then just see how he does throughout the week.”
Freeney end near? -- Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney may be taking the field for the last time at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday.
Freeney's contract expires at the end of the current season. It will be up to the Colts management to decide if he is worth a sizeable new deal.
"You really don’t know. This could be it. We’ll see what happens for me and my career later and what they decide to do. Those are all business decisions for both of us," he said Wednesday.
"But yeah, I think the later in your career, the older you get and especially when your contract is what it is, you have to sit there and say, ‘Hey this might be it, man.’ Just take in as much as you can take in.”
He thinks his career with the Colts speaks for itself. Any final decision will be up to team owner Jim Irsay and first-year general manager Ryan Grigson.
“I’m going to leave that with those guys. I think for me, all I can do is to perform and play. I’ve been a guy that’s played regardless. I think I was supposed to be out four weeks [with an ankle injury]. I’m back in two. They said I’m supposed to be back in six. I’m back in two," Freeney said.
"I just go out and do what I’m supposed to do and give it my all. If management wants to recognize that and say, ‘Hey we are going to keep you around regardless,’ that’s their decision. I’m sure they will do right by me and factor in everything. When it’s time to make that decision, they will.”