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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Two days after fill-in starter Oren Burks suffered a shoulder injury during pregame warm-ups, the Green Bay Packers traded for an inside linebacker.

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Luck gives himself passing grade for preseason
While Andrew Luck wouldn’t assign a letter grade to his preseason performance, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback says he earned a passing grade. Saturday’s final preseason game included a touchdown pass to Eric Ebron.

The Packers acquired Antonio Morrison from the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for cornerback Lenzy Pipkins, the teams announced Sunday.

“Antonio is obviously an experienced linebacker,” coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday. “If you look at the youth of the group, it’s something we felt we needed to add.

“These things don’t just happen overnight. We’re very young at that position.”

Burks, a third-round pick, had moved into a starting role after Jake Ryan blew out his knee the first week of training camp. The rookie from Vanderbilt started the first two preseason games and was slated to do the same on Friday at Pittsburgh, where he was hurt before the game even started.

McCarthy indicated the Packers were looking to add linebacker depth even before Burks’ injury, which he said Sunday was “better than we anticipated” and “should not be a long-term deal.”

“It’s a position that we wanted to add experience to,” McCarthy said. “And definitely [we have] some young guys there that we feel good about.”

Third-year pro Blake Martinez, who tied for the NFL lead in tackles last season, was the only inside linebacker on the roster with any NFL experience after Ryan was placed on injured reserve.

In place of Burks, the Packers started undrafted rookie Greer Martini and also used practice-squad member Ahmad Thomas against the Steelers.

Burks said his shoulder popped out of place.

“I didn’t really think much of it,” Burks said. “Knew something was wrong, obviously, but I’ve never had any shoulder issues before, so I didn’t really know what I was feeling or any kinds of things like that. Good evaluation, good feedback from the MRI and things like that. Like I said, just taking it one day at a time, trying to get rehabbed and get back as soon as possible.”
While running back Ty Montgomery left Friday’s game with a foot injury, he said he was fine and that “I’m not injured.” However, there is concern about backup offensive lineman Kyle Murphy, who started at right tackle against the Steelers. He sustained a right ankle injury and was seen Sunday in a walking boot.

Morrison, a fourth-round pick from Florida in 2016, started all 15 games he played in last season and made four starts as a rookie. The Colts switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense this season, and Morrison fell to the third string.

Pipkins made the Packers’ 53-man roster last season as an undrafted free agent. He appeared in 12 games, mostly on special teams, making one start at cornerback and playing a total of 112 defensive snaps. The Packers loaded up at cornerback in the offseason, signing free agent Tramon Williams and using their first two picks on Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson.

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INDIANAPOLIS – Four weeks have passed since the bad football mercifully stopped and the coaching search quickly commenced. The Indianapolis Colts fired Chuck Pagano an hour after the season finale on New Year’s Eve; three days later, in Foxboro, Mass., General Manager Chris Ballard was sitting down with his first candidate.

He’ll have to wait one more week before officially naming Josh McDaniels Pagano’s successor.

The Patriots’ offensive coordinator has a work conflict, of course. He’s in Minneapolis scheming ways to attack the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense in Super Bowl LII.

From there McDaniels will descend on Indianapolis and embark upon the second head-coaching stint of his career, the aim being to do everything he did not the first time around. For starters: win.

Here are the remaining questions McDaniels and the Colts will soon have to answer:

1. This late in the coaching cycle, can McDaniels build a capable staff?

This is absolutely vital for McDaniels, and a factor Ballard has repeatedly stressed since taking over 12 months ago. The Colts want assistants who can develop young players and turn them into regular starters. It happened far too rarely under Pagano – in recent seasons, tight end Jack Doyle and cornerback Rashaan Melvin are two notable exceptions. But the gross lack of development, especially with high draft picks, has proven especially costly. That’s what leads to overspending in free agency. That’s what leads to four-win seasons.
At the outset of his coaching search, Ballard insisted that Pagano’s successor has “got to be able to hire a first-class staff that can teach and develop players. That’s what we’re going to be about. We’re going to be about teaching and developing players, and you’ve got to live through some bumps when you do that.”

That sentiment echoes Ballard’s stance on the coming free agency period: He’s long preferred building a team through the draft. But with roughly $85 million to spend, and holes darn near everywhere on his roster, it’ll be hard for Ballard not to address some, or plenty, of this team’s needs.
Colts insider Stephen Holder on what he learned about the next likely Colts coach from the Patriots’ locker room. Stephen Holder/IndyStar

And hiring that first-class staff might prove more difficult in February, a month into the coaching cycle. Plenty of sought-after candidates have already landed their next job. (At least six Pagano assistants have taken a job with a different team, notably offensive line coach Joe Philbin, quarterbacks coach Brian Schottenheimer, wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal and special teams guru Tom McMahon.)

Reportedly, McDaniels has tapped veteran Dallas Cowboys defensive coach Matt Eberflus as his coordinator on that side of the ball, and ex-Raiders QB coach Jake Peetz as the offensive coordinator. Neither move can be made official until McDaniels’ hiring is official. Eberflus is well-respected across the league, even reportedly turning down an offer from the Cowboys to coordinate their defense in favor of joining McDaniels’ staff in Indy. Peetz is more of a wild card.

For starters, that’s a young triumvirate: McDaniels himself is only 41, Eberflus 47, Peetz 34. By comparison, Pagano was 57 last season, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski 49, defensive coordinator Ted Monachino 51.

Maybe it matters. Maybe it doesn’t. But it’s clear McDaniels isn’t making decades of experience an overriding factor in his coaching hires.

As for Peetz, the expectation is that McDaniels will run the offense, install the concepts and call the plays. Peetz will work closely with franchise QB Andrew Luck, whom the team expects back at full strength next season.

2. With new coordinators, how much will the schemes change?

Expect the Colts to slide from the 3-4 defensive front they employed (rather unsuccessfully) throughout Chuck Pagano’s six seasons and shift back into the 4-3 base they used throughout the Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell eras. It’s the system the Cowboys have run under coordinator Rod Marinelli since 2013, the one Eberflus is familiar with. His expertise comes at the linebacker position, and that will be vital as the Colts alter their scheme up front.

The central question in all of this: Do they have the players for it?

Possibly. Vital in the 3-4 scheme are playmakers at the second level; it really only worked for the Colts in 2013, when Robert Mathis erupted for 19.5 sacks from the edge rushing position. The Colts – armed with capable if not spectacular outside linebackers in John Simon and Jabaal Sheard – aren’t getting anywhere near that kind of production these days. And the inside linebacking position was a huge weakness throughout the 2017 campaign.

Instead, at this juncture, the real strength of this average-at-best defense arrives up front. That fits the needs for the 4-3. Space-eating linemen Johnathan Hankins and Al Woods were the hidden gems of the Colts’ unit in 2017, under-the-radar Ballard signings who revitalized what had been a porous run defense for over a decade. The thinking if the Colts’ shift to the 4-3 base: Hankins and Woods would clear some lanes for Simon and Sheard (who would likely see time at defensive end) to get to the quarterback, a far more likelihood than those two shedding blockers in one-on-one situations.

A player to watch if the Colts do indeed make the switch: second-year linebacker Tarell Basham. An up-and-down rookie season ended on a relatively positive note for Basham, who stood out in pass rushing situations as well as on special teams. Basham starred in college as a 4-3 defensive end at Ohio, and prefers playing with his hand in the dirt. The Cowboys – with Eberflus on the staff – were very interested in Basham during last year’s draft, according to a league source. A move to defensive end in a 4-3 scheme might spark an uptick in production for Basham in Year No. 2.

3. Can McDaniels win over the locker room?

Do not discount the necessity of the new coach earning the respect of his players, particularly in this scenario. Publicly, there’s nothing Ballard emphasizes more often than the need for a strong locker room. There’s no strong locker room without a strong head coach. McDaniels knows this. He knows how rocky his tenure as the Broncos’ head coach unfolded. And he knows how Bill Belichick does it in New England.

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Jan 13, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on the sideline against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports David Butler II, David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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Make no mistake: That Ballard, a second-year general manager, is handing his team over to McDaniels is a gamble. Outside of the optimal coaching incubator that is Foxboro, McDaniels hasn’t done a whole lot in this league.

In Indianapolis, he’ll have to first win Andrew Luck’s trust. But it won’t end there. Defensive veterans like Sheard – whom McDaniels worked with in New England – Simon, Hankins, Woods are next on the list. Earn their belief and the rest will follow.

“You can’t buy a locker room,” Ballard likes to say.

It’s clear McDaniels has his work cut out for him.

First up: the Eagles’ defense, and potentially McDaniels’ sixth Super Bowl ring with the Patriots.

Then he’s got a program to build in Indianapolis.

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INDIANAPOLIS — Will this be the last bye week for Chuck Pagano as coach of the Indianapolis Colts?

It’s understandable if that’s the case when you consider the current state of the franchise.

The Colts have gone from reaching the playoffs in each of their first three seasons under Pagano to now being on the verge of missing the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. Colts owner Jim Irsay wouldn’t go beyond committing to Pagano for this season when he fired general manager Ryan Grigson back in January. New first-year general manager Chris Ballard is spending the season evaluating all areas of the team, from the players to the coaching staff.

The Colts’ 3-7 record marks just the second time in the past 15 seasons that their record has been below .500 after 10 games.

“Life is hard; ball is hard. This profession is hard,” Pagano said. “You do it for moments. We haven’t had a whole bunch of those. We’ve had a lot of success. That’s how it goes. Some seasons are like this.

The Colts knew this season would be challenge with the roster turnover and the uncertainty surrounding quarterback Andrew Luck and his right shoulder to go along with season-ending injuries to players such as Malik Hooker, Henry Anderson and current injuries to John Simon and Clayton Geathers.

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The ultimate goal has and continues to be winning as many games as possible. Other key evaluation areas when it comes to Pagano’s future are the development of the young players on the roster and putting a competitive team on the field on a weekly basis.

The problem the Colts continue to face is their inability to close out games. They have led in the second half of five of their seven losses, including Sunday’s 20-17 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It’s really pretty simple, we just have to figure out a way to get it done,” left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “It’s happened too many times. It’s kind of one of those things we have to nip in the bud and get in and fix it.”

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Simple is the last way you’d describe what the Colts have gone through. It’s almost expected that they’ll find a way to lose the lead in the fourth quarter.

“Until we figure out a way to eliminate foolish penalties in critical situations and a costly turnover, those kind of things, we’re going to be talking the same old thing week in and week out, so it is what it is,” Pagano said.
The Colts are closer to the No. 1 overall pick in the next spring’s draft than they are to Tennessee and Jacksonville in the AFC South because they can’t close out games.

Indianapolis is 3 1/2 games behind first-place Jacksonville and Tennessee and would have the No. 4 pick — which would be its highest selection since taking Luck No. 1 overall in 2012 — in the draft if it were held today. The Colts start their post-bye week stretch of six games — three home and three on the road — on Nov. 26 against the Tennessee Titans.

“Some years are like this,” Pagano said again. “It makes you better if you don’t quit, if you don’t give in. If you learn lessons and you’ve got to learn; you’ve got to grow. You’ve got to be honest. You’ve got to be able to look at it and say, ‘OK, this is why.’ Point it out and say, ‘This is why this is happening, so let’s fix this, this and this.’ You keep going, you keep going, you keep going.”