Tribune Star Correspondent
INDIANAPOLIS — As much as Bruce Arians is enjoying leading the Indianapolis Colts as the team’s interim coach, he has made it clear where his loyalties lie.
Arians, who has led the Colts to a 7-4 record heading into Sunday’s game at Detroit, continues to give all credit for the team’s unexpected run of success this season to his boss, coach Chuck Pagano.
Indianapolis was expected to flounder in the wake of so many on-and-off field changes. Yet the Colts find themselves in strong contention for an AFC wild-card berth.
Pagano has been away from the team, in terms of being an every-day presence, since Oct. 1 when he was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. He has been undergoing a series of chemotherapy treatments since then.
The goal, according to Arians, is to have Pagano back on the sidelines for the Colts’ Dec. 30 regular-season home finale with AFC South rival Houston.
If that goal is met, Pagano will be back fully-in-charge of the team in time for a potential post-season run.
“If he comes back, he’ll be the head coach and taking back over,” Arians said.
Pagano has been in attendance for two home games – Miami and Buffalo -- since taking his leave of absence, sitting with team owner Jim Irsay in his Lucas Oil Stadium suite. The Colts have won both of those matchups.
He has also remained involved by working from his home by breaking down practice and game tapes. Pagano also keeps in touch with the Colts’ coaching staff and players.
“[The players] love Chuck and what he means and what he stands for. He’s in communication with the guys all the time texting,” Arians said.
“I kind of preach it every week so we’re never going to forget that. That’s the one thing we want to do and I think that’s what’s bonded our football team.”
The Colts players have watched Pagano's battle with leukemia on a daily basis. And they've learned from it,taking their on-field quest of making the playoffs on a day-by-day schedule.
“Each game has become more important. Our goal is in sight. As long as we stay within the moment, we’ll be playing when he comes back and that has always been our goal since he got sick, to extend the season," Arians voiced.
"He has stayed in constant contact with a lot of the players and coaches. His foot prints and hand prints are all over this team. It’s his team. We all feel very good that we’re in a position now to achieve that goal if we just stay in the moment of Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and not start looking ahead.”
Having Pagano around, even on a limited basis, continues to be the Colts' driving force. And being able to contribute, even on a limited basis, helps the coach as well.
“It’s unbelievable medicine. Being around football I think is one of the things that’s getting him well. The more he can be in the building and be around the guys, when it’s not detrimental to his health, it’s unbelievable medicine for him," Arians explained. "Being able to break down film and doing all the things that he’s doing at the house, and then texting guys saying, ‘Hey you played this play pretty good but you didn’t play that play pretty good.'
"The little thing with [wide receiver] T.Y. [Hilton], [texting him last week to stretch and cut on his punt returns, which helped propel him on the 75-yardrunback for a touchdown against Buffalo]. Those things are a fabulous medicine to help a person get well. You have to have a reason to want to get well. And when you have one as strong as this, it’s great medicine.”
Facing the Lions -- The Colts will have a stiff test this weekend at Ford Field against a Detroit team that is a lot better than its 4-7 record would indicate.
“When you’ve got two guys with the quality of [quarterback] Matthew [Stafford] and [wide receiver] Calvin [Johnson], they are as good as it gets in this league. As far as a one-two punch, the guy throwing to a guy catching, Matthew can make every throw in the book and this guy [Johnson] can obviously take a short one and go over [you],” Arians previewed.
“Or you could have him covered and he’s still going to jump out and catch it. So don’t get your heart broken if two guys are on him and he still catches the ball. Just play the next down.”
Arians scouted the big (6-5, 236) and athletic Johnson prior to the 2006 National Football League draft, attending his on-campus workout at Georgia Tech as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"When we went to his workout when he was coming out, you had seen a little bit of each in a different guy. Plaxico [Burress] was big. Some guys are fast, Steve Smith’s got great hands. This guy has got it all and he’s got an unbelievable work ethic," he recalled.
"I think the most impressive thing for me was watching him block at Georgia Tech. They didn’t throw that much and he was a devastating blocker for them. Just watching him grow as a wide receiver now speaks volumes for his work ethic.”
Explanation on Chapman -- The Colts’ decision to place rookie nose tackle Josh Chapman on injured reserve came as somewhat of a surprise.
Chapman had undergone reconstructive knee surgery in January after he was injured playing for Alabama last season. He had missed the spring workouts, training camp and the early portion of the regular season but had been cleared to begin practicing last month. Chapman had been added to the active roster but had played in a game yet this season.
“He made the ultimate sacrifice last year giving that [knee] up for a [FBS] championship and we’re not going to press him. We’ve got a lot invested in him and we think he’s going to be a great football player,” Arians said.
“There’s just been a little bit too much, a little bit of pain when he’s tried to practice. So we just want to get him well and then go into the off-season so we can have him fully healthy for next year.”
Roster moves -- Indianapolis signed safety Delano Howell Wednesday from the Buffalo Bills practice squad to the Colts active roster.
The Colts also announced that offensive guard Seth Olsen will return to practice from the physically unable to perform list. Olsen will remain on injured reserve during this time.
Indianapolis will have up to three weeks from today to elevate Olsen to the 53-man active roster or he will remain on Injured Reserve for the rest of the season.
Indianapolis also signed former Rams defensive tackle Kellen Heard. Defensive tackle Fili Moala (knee) and Chapman were both added to the injured reserve list.
Injury list -- Sitting out Wednesday's practice were outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (rest), offensive tackle Tony Hills (chest), nose tackle Martin Tevaseu (head/shoulder) and safety Tom Zbikowski (shin contusion/knee).
Running back Donald Brown (knee), cornerback Vontae Davis (knee), tight end Coby Fleener (shoulder), safety Joe Lefeged (toe) and quarterback Andrew Luck (knee) all fully participated in the workout.