Recapping Indianapolis Colts’ Best Zoom Calls
Phillip B. Wilson
INDIANAPOLIS — Business as usual didn’t apply, not to the NFL teams in a virtual offseason due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and certainly not to the Indianapolis Colts amid the social outcry about racism and police brutality.
Colts head coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard were two of the first NFL voices to publicly denounce racism and the need for the team to help affect change in the community.
About three weeks from when teams report for training camp at facilities, here’s a look back at the best Colts’ Zoom video conference calls — Reich and Ballard’s powerful messages, quarterback Philip Rivers acknowledging doubters, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton expressing his desire to stay with the Colts after 2020 and his next contract will be his last, the eagerness of second-round draft selections Michael Pittman Jr. and Jonathan Taylor about joining the Colts, the March acquisition of All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner being a “no-brainer,” Buckner saying there’s “no added pressure” after he received a four-year, $84-million extension, owner Jim Irsay admitting he misses “old friend” Andrew Luck, Ballard sharing how his owner encouraged the trade up to draft Taylor, and Reich explaining why Tony Dungy, Ray Allen, and Doc Rivers addressing the team was a “highlight.”
Ballard Doesn’t Hold Back
As the world erupted in protests after the death of George Floyd, who was suffocated while in police custody, Ballard was compelled to have a 16-minute call with the media on June 4th.
As much as the Colts general manager has always been known as media friendly and transparent in sharing his opinions, his tone for this call was unlike anything ever shared. He was angry, not just about racism but at his own ignorance about the problem. He thought he understood, then realized after speaking with Black coaches and players that he didn’t.
Ballard admitted he got it wrong about when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in 2016 in an attempt to raise awareness about racism and police brutality. The GM also confessed he needed to speak to his children more about what’s going on in the world, how making a change in society has to start at home, where young minds can be shaped properly.
Ballard vowed that the Colts would be community leaders in fighting these societal issues, and the team has since announced initiatives, including the creation of a new position of director of diversion, equity, and inclusion as well as a scholarship for minority students.
Here’s Ballard’s complete video.
Reich Speaks Out
When he spoke his mind about racism and police brutality on June 1st, Reich was just the second NFL head coach to make a public statement. Known for his ability to stay calm in pressure situations, Reich reiterated it’s not enough for anyone to say they’re not racist, that it’s a time for action to face the problem.
In the wake of the societal unrest, Reich knew his players were affected and changed the agenda for two days of team meetings to allow anyone to speak about how the outcry was impacting them and what they had experienced in their lives. The conversations were powerful, to say the least.
Here’s Reich’s statement.
Rivers Insists he Isn’t Washed up
The offseason conjecture that Rivers was no longer capable of being a solid NFL quarterback didn’t go unnoticed. After signing a one-year, $25-million contract to play his 17th season with the Colts, Rivers assured he’s confident he can flourish with his new team after setting franchise passing records with the Chargers. Doubters don’t motivate him, but he heard them.
Rivers turns 39 in December, but hopes he can play more than one season with the Colts. The team would like to see him play beyond 2020, too.
Here’s Rivers reaction to doubters.
Hilton Wants to Stay Put
The four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver is entering a contract year, and for much as he’s accomplished since the Colts moved up to draft him in the third round in 2012, Hilton has been hurt in each of the past two seasons and must prove he can stay healthy to land a new lucrative contract.
Hilton said he wants to stay with the Colts, and if he has to prove his worth again, he will. He sees this as his final contract.
Here’s Hilton’s comments.
Rookies Polished, Eager
The Colts used second-round picks on USC wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor because both are talented and NFL-ready to make immediate contributions.
Zoom calls with media showed they are focused on living up to expectations.
Here are two of the chats with them.
Getting Buckner ‘a No-Brainer’
Ballard’s bold March move to acquire All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner from San Francisco for the team’s 13th overall selection in April’s NFL draft was considered “a no-brainer” because of the newcomer’s ability to dominate as a three-technique defender.
The Colts needed a cornerstone to anchor the defensive line, and the 26-year-old Buckner was seen as an ideal fit. He received a four-year, $84-million extension, which shows how much Ballard and the Colts value him.
Here’s Ballard’s chat on Buckner.
Buckner Unfazed by Expectations
One of the narratives about Buckner is how he’s not just a standout player, he’s a leader. And he gave media a taste of that by saying how he doesn’t see any added pressure to stepping into such an important role with the Colts. He’s going to prepare and play like he always has and do the things that made him a coveted player.
There’s a quiet confidence in how he sees his situation. It’s easy to see how that could affect his teammates, who will benefit from his example.
Here’s Buckner’s chat.
Irsay Misses Luck
Before February’s NFL Scouting Combine began in Indianapolis, owner Jim Irsay spoke to the media about a variety of topics. He couldn’t help but admit he still misses quarterback Andrew Luck, who retired unexpectedly before 2019.
While the team has moved on and doesn’t expect Luck to return, Irsay confided he still has hope that his “old friend” might come back some day.
Here’s Irsay's comment on Luck.
Go Get Taylor
After the Colts traded up three spots in the second round to select Taylor with the 41st overall selection, Ballard said he got a nudge from Irsay to make the move because the team was high on the running back.
It’s not often that Irsay offers his input in the heat of the moment, he prefers to let the people he hires do their jobs, but Ballard pulled the trigger and was thrilled to get Taylor, a Wisconsin workhorse who should fit in nicely with running back Marlon Mack in giving the Colts what they call a “one-one” punch.
Here’s Ballard’s comment on Irsay’s nudge.
Voices of Experience Provide Powerful Messages
Reich asked Hall of Fame and former Colts coach Tony Dungy as well as NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen and longtime NBA player/coach Doc Rivers to address the team in Zoom meetings.
Their messages from experience during a time of strife were considered a “highlight” to the Colts’ offseason of video conference calls.
Here’s Reich explaining why he asked for their insights.
(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.)