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Ordinarily, Robert Mathis wouldn’t be amped for a preseason game.
But Sunday’s opener is an exception.
When St. Louis visits Lucas Oil Stadium for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff, it will provide fans — and coaches — their first game-situation glimpse of the new Indianapolis Colts.
Mathis, one of the few remaining veterans from the Peyton Manning era, is eager to make a good first impression.
“It’s not just a first preseason game, it’s a first stepping stone to what we’re trying to get accomplished, and that’s to go as far as we want to go,” Mathis said, voicing a common sentiment on a revamped team that, despite low outside projections, expects to give fans more than advertised.
The exhibition-opener is its first opportunity to try.
“We’re going to be exciting. There’s just great energy, great enthusiasm,” offensive guard Joe Reitz said. “We had it since we started back in April. It’s been way ramped up in (training) camp.
“I think we’ve had a great camp, overall, as a team.”
All that’s left now is to prove it on the field, where — for better or for worse — the Colts will forge a new identity.
With the vast majority of the team’s most familiar faces having moved on, forecasts for 2012 are gloomy, at best.
Although long-term expectations for rookie quarterback Andrew Luck are sunny, he is surrounded by a cast of largely unknown and in many cases untested players who are learning under a new staff, under the direction of first-time head coach Chuck Pagano.
Yet the Colts don’t view themselves as non-contender. Underdogs, perhaps, but not candidates for another dismal season.
They look forward to the opportunity to prove it. Sunday is the first.
“It’s way more than just a preseason game,” said Mathis, a former Pro Bowl defensive end who’s transitioned to outside linebacker. “Coach said we have 10 home games this year, two preseason and eight regular, and we’re trying to win them all. We come to play.
“Apparently, we have a lot to prove.”
Specifically, the Colts want to prove that they still are a competitive force, despite wholesale changes that have rendered a once-Pro Bowl-laden roster almost unrecognizable.
As a result, Mathis isn’t alone in his conviction that the preseason-opener isn’t just another preseason game.
It will be the Colts’ first impression.
“I feel like this group has a lot to prove, so I’m excited,” said offensive tackle Winston Justice, acquired in an offseason trade with Philadelphia. “I want to see how we compete against someone other than ourselves.
“I’m kind of excited to hit someone new.”
“We are just excited for the season and looking forward to Sunday, getting to hit somebody else,” he said. “It’s an exciting time, and it’s going to be an exciting team.”
A team that, if Mathis is correct, won’t just exceed expectations but will shatter them.
“New Colts era. Build a monster, that’s what we’re doing, so let’s go,” he said. “The fans, they’re excited. We’re excited. They’re excited.
“Let’s just give them something to cheer for.”
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