INDIANAPOLIS — When Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich has Monday chats with the media in Zoom video conference calls, there’s no shortage of hot topics broached.
The latest round of questions inquired about if the Colts might need to prepare for playing games without fans, how coaches have been able to evaluate the rookie class remotely because NFL team facilities are still closed, and whether the constant assessing of needs should include offensive line depth.
The league has started a phased opening of facilities, but coaches are not yet permitted and the only players are those rehabbing injuries. Because the coronavirus pandemic has just surpassed 100,000 deaths nationally, the popular narrative is that if the NFL proceeds with games in September, they will be played without admitting fans.
How would an empty building on game day impact team preparation?
“I think that is a great question and we have started to talk about those things as coaches,” Reich said. “(GM) Chris (Ballard) and I have talked about it to some degree. As coaches, we’ve talked about what that would look like even as far as stuff like – it will be odd that first time.
“I am just giving you one example – so this offseason we have been working a lot on visualization and we are all big believers in it. Every athlete uses visualization at some point. That is no Earth-shattering announcement or discovery. But I think when you are in this virtual period, you just tend to accentuate this visualization technique and it is really a skill, that it really does matter and we are going to heighten our use of it. So I have asked the coaches to bring that into every meeting – having guys visualize stuff.”
Reich said he’s thinking about going through that scenario with his staff.
“I was even thinking the other day if it gets to that point where there is going to be no fans, limited fans or whatever – and I don’t have any information on any of that at this point – I would probably go through an exercise where I’ve got guys trying to visualize what that looks like,” he said. “So you get rid of that awkwardness the first time you go in and you are looking around like, ‘Man, this is strange.’ So try to do something to alleviate that.
“From a play-calling standpoint and a scheming standpoint, it would eliminate crowd noise but then I heard they possibly would pipe noise in. If it ever came to something like that there might be some level of noise that is piped in. We are thinking about those things. We will be ready to adapt and adjust. I think they all matter and we are talking them all through.”
Because teams have had to adhere to a virtual offseason, the chance for the Colts to evaluate their nine-player rookie class has been handled remotely with classroom-type study. Reich was asked about how the deviation from spending extra practice time with rookies has affected the assessments.
“It’s harder because we don’t get them on the field, but lots of classroom work,” he said. “The way the rules read, we get the rookies for longer. So once the vets get excused we still get to keep the rookies a little bit longer. So we get some one-on-one time with them, that’s been helpful. They are in a group setting with everybody – they are probably a little more on the quiet side, but now you get them one-on-one and there is no place to hide so you get to know them.
“Secondly – I think I mentioned this maybe a couple of weeks ago – we are trying to get those guys to send in videos, especially the rookies. We are really pushing the rookies – we are pushing all of the guys, but maybe even pushing the rookies more. ‘Send us video. We want to see you. We want to see your body moving, how you come out of your stance, how you come out of your break, how you break on the ball.’ Those little things we can get a little bit of a head start. It is not ideal, but that is what we are doing.”
Reich expressed confidence his staff has adjusted to the NFL’s new offseason normal and made necessary progress. He was asked if the Colts have checked off all the boxes for areas that needed to be addressed and improved upon.
“Every team goes through a similar exercise I’m sure, but one of the first things we do as soon as the season is over, we go through our assessment of our own personnel,” he said. “Then we develop a needs list. We develop a needs list offensively and defensively. The way it’s organized is very good. The way that I’ll work with the staff on it, Chris works with everybody on it to assess the needs.
“We get into an offensive unit, defensive unit (and) we talk about needs in-depth – our roster, what we need, what we’re planning on doing, so on and so forth. Then we prioritize those. The offense will prioritize their needs, the defense will prioritize their needs. Then basically, Chris and I will take that and then we’ll meld that together to see who gets — and it’s always a big joke by the way, right? — who is going to get preference, offense or defense? Whose needs – how are they going to get stacked when they actually get together? That’s always a little bit of a laugh. That’s what we do. It gets prioritized and as you look at what we were prioritizing, we accomplished a lot of what we wanted to accomplish.”
Another question pertained to possible concerns about offensive line depth. The Colts had the NFL”s only O-Line without a missed start last season, but the usual expectation is to have eight or nine linemen active at all times.
“We talked a lot about that and we were very excited to get Danny Pinter,” Reich said of the fifth-round pick out of Ball State. “I think that he adds good depth. Then we just keep developing. I really am hopeful that we can go again with our same five starters playing every snap. I don’t know how realistic that is. I don’t want to say (it’s) a concern, it’s always a priority. It’s always a priority If the right opportunity would have fallen in the draft, there was discussion of finding the right guy, but it just didn’t fall that way. It just didn’t fall that way for us.
“We’ll always have our eyes open, always continuing to build and we think some of the guys we have – we think Jake (Eldrenkamp) is a good player. We think Jake Eldrenkamp can continue to develop. He adds good depth for us inside and a couple of new guys that we brought in from last year we think will continue to develop there and keep our eyes open.”
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)