INDIANAPOLIS — Nathan Palmer has a front row seat for what’s evolving into the NFL’s most uplifting story. And he’s loving every moment.
As a rookie receiver with the Indianapolis Colts, Palmer, an Elkhart native and Central High School graduate, is relishing his role, albeit slight to date, in the franchise’s inspiring 2012 saga.
There’s head coach Chuck Pagano’s heroic fight with leukemia and the team’s “Chuckstrong” backing.
There’s interim coach Bruce Arians, who has picked the pieces of an extremely young club and steered it to an eye-opening 7-4 record after last season’s 2-14 debacle.
And there’s Andrew Luck, the rookie quarterback wunderkind who is standing tall and leading the way like a poised veteran.
Though Palmer’s playing time has been limited to mostly special teams, he’s soaked up what he can since being traded by the San Francisco 49ers earlier this season.
Read Bill Beck’s Side Lines blog to find out more on Elkhart’s Nathan Palmer.
How genuine is the family atmosphere in the lockerroom?
“It’s very real. That whole situation brought this team a lot closer. You can tell the guys are playing with a little more fire, a little bit more passion and playing to believe because that’s what (Pagano) wants us to do. It gives you a little bit different perspective on football. It’s not just about football. If that guy can go out there and fight for his life, there’s no reason we can’t go out there and fight for a game.”
What about the job Bruce Arians has done?
“I think it’s a credit to what Coach Pagano has started here and the foundation he’s built. He preaches next man up when somebody goes down. I remember (Arians) saying when he got the interim job, ‘Well, next man up and that’s me.’ He took that ownership. He’s coaching like it’s his team but he never lets us forget it’s about Coach Pagano.”
Can fans understand Andrew Luck’s work ethic?
“They can’t appreciate it. They really can’t. A lot of times you don’t see the process that he goes through, but that guy works so hard. There’s not a thing or look he gets (in practice) that he’s not prepared for and I’ve never seen anyone be able to correct their mistakes so quickly. Somebody will line up wrong ... a lot of times it will take a coach to say something, but with him, he’s pretty much coaching himself. He’s an unbelievable guy. He’ll help you. If he sees you struggling with something, if there’s a route you can’t quite run or pick up, he’ll go, ‘Hey, Nate, look, let’s get this’ or ‘Why don’t you try this? I’ll pick you up here.’ He’s very dialed in, way beyond his years.”
What have you learned from a veteran like Reggie Wayne?
“He’s talked about the process, respecting the process, how to prepare when you’re not starting and not getting as many reps. In San Fran, I got reps even though I wasn’t playing or starting. Here, starters get the reps. You have to get more mental reps. Seeing him, he’s out there having fun. There’s a guy, he’s a future Hall of Famer, and for him to sit down and take the time to talk to a guy like me ... I wasn’t drafted here, I came in the middle of things. He got to know me, saw what kind of player I was, what kind of guy I was. He took all of (the young receivers) under his wing. We had a dinner and we sat down with him and he told us a little bit of the things he’s been through with his life and what got him to this point. He’s been great.”