INDIANAPOLIS — It’s safe to say that we’re all excited that the NFL is back in action this season after Thursday’s kickoff.
Kickoff Sunday being one of the United States’ unofficial holidays has all 32 teams buzzing as well.
The Indianapolis Colts travel south to Florida to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field (1 p.m., EST), and both sides are chomping at the bit to get out there.
Here is what the Colts and Jaguars are saying entering Week 1.
Colts head coach Frank Reich on facing an AFC South opponent right off the bat: “It’s important. I did see – I don’t know which one of you guys or I saw someone put that out there today — that we hadn’t won an opener since 2013. So we need to do everything we can do to get that turned around this year. Obviously as you guys know, this one is even more important because it’s a division opponent and it’s on the road. A win against a division opponent on the road against a team that we haven’t played well down in their stadium. We have a lot to prove and we know this is a good football team. They have done a good job against us. I think we’ll go down there focused. I also know it’s important because every year – just talking to (owner) Mr. (Jim) Irsay — he stresses to me the importance of the opener. We’ll give him our best effort and we’ll give Jacksonville our best effort. We’ll be focused and get ready. We want to start the year off right with a win on the road against a division opponent – a good team.”
Reich on how confident he is in the offense’s readiness for Week 1 without having played a preseason: “I’m extremely confident. I feel really good. I think our players mentally and physically are prepared. You need to be in this league because every week you’re going up against an opponent that can knock you down and take you out. We don’t expect any excuses of no preseason games, first game of the year, knock the rust off. We’ve had plenty of chances to knock the rust off. I’m not saying that we’ll be mistake free. We’ll make some mistakes out there. I mean it’s football, they get paid as well. We’ll make a mistake or two. We’ll get beat a time or two. But I believe our guys are ready.”
Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus on how they can prepare for Jacksonville’s offense without preseason tape: "Yeah, I think you really draw on a lot of things when you prepare for a first game. All the snaps from the players currently on their roster – to look at their skillsets albeit at receiver, quarterback or running back. I think that is a good way to do it. Then you look at these past performances against these guys in terms of – I know it is a totally different scheme. Jay Gruden is the new coordinator, Ben McAdoo is the new quarterback coach, the same line coach with George (Warhop). You look at it and you encompass a lot of different tape when you’re playing a new group. Then also what their acquisitions are, you look at that and see how they are going to filter those guys into their scheme and use their skillsets as well. There is a lot that goes into it from a lot of different ways. I think that’s the best way to do it going forward and how you want to attack a particular unit."
Eberflus on what the Jaguars receiving corps brings to the table: “I think it’s the skillset. It’s the skillset of the guys. I mean from their first receiver to their fourth or fifth receiver, you’re talking about a different skillset with each guy – down-the-field threats, guys that can move in the slot. Then they got the kid from Colorado (Laviska Shenault Jr.) this year that is a power mover and they’re going to do different things with him, too. I just think it’s an all-encompassing group that they’re not all alike, they’re all different, and they’re all different and special in their own way. They all bring a skillset that is harder to defend and they’ve done a nice job there.”
Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni on the advantage of having a 16-year pro at quarterback in Philip Rivers who has seen everything: “There is no doubt that we can’t know what they have been doing in practice – so no doubt is it going to be harder to surprise Philip. He’s been 16 years, how many plays a year? Let’s just say 1,000 plays, that’s a lot of plays – 16,000 plays. That’s a lot of plays that he’s seen and he’s seen different defenses. No doubt, we feel like that is an advantage, but we also know that we have to be ready for anything they can throw at us. They studied tape all offseason and they probably put new plays in the offseason, so we’re going to have to be ready to adjust to anything they have. Fortunately, Philip has seen a lot, not only – he may see it right at the beginning and if not, we’ll make adjustments as needed on the sideline. Philip is huge being able to be there with that because of how much experience he has.”
Colts quarterback Philip Rivers on the unknowns that an offense faces in an opening game: “Well, I think the first thing that stands out is ball security and penalties. Now, I think we’ve had a huge emphasis on both. We’ve done the mock games, we’ve done those things. We’ve had a few live periods, we’ve thudded it up. Our defense does a great job of trying to rip out the football and kind of be pains in the rear end on that, as far as how they are always tugging at it and trying to get it out even after the play is dead. That’s allowed our guys to be used to that. Then it’s pre-snap penalties, which we’ve been very good at during this training camp. So I think those are the two things that first stand out. There’s going to be some incompletions. Hopefully there are not any negative runs, but there may be a run for one yard or there may be a negative run. Obviously, you don’t want to have that, but I think it’s those other things early on that you can be a little sloppy with. But certainly, penalties and all security also correlate to winning games, so that will always be an emphasis not only in Week 1, but those are the things you could see stand out and needs to be a focus from an offensive standpoint.”
Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on how he feels physically heading into Week 1 after dealing with various injuries the past two seasons: “I feel great. I’m ready to go. I’ve been excited this whole week. I wasn’t able to sleep yesterday, wasn’t able to sleep much today. I’m just excited man – just happy to get back out there with my teammates, have fun. (This is) the healthiest I’ve been this whole offseason. That is the only thing I’ve been worrying about, just being healthy because a healthy 13 is a different 13. Banged up or not, they can’t stop me. Me healthy, still can’t stop me. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone on preparing for a new Colts quarterback in Philip Rivers: "I think, like anyone, I think Phillip has been a potential Hall of Famer. I've got a ton of respect for him. He's an ultimate competitor, we all know that. So, there's really not a lot of things that he hasn't seen. We understand that he can play at a very, very high level and they've got a lot of good pieces around him on all three sides. So, I think you look at a lot of things, I think we've kind of exhausted that, especially when we were all out of the office at that time and we had a lot of projects and a lot of things. So, we've bounced around a lot of ideas and we've kind of looked at it from a lot of different perspectives."
Marrone on facing the Colts and specifically their rushing attack: "Yeah, I don't know if I put a lot into the first part of the question, this thing that this run and everything. I understand that, I acknowledge that's what happened, that we didn't play well that game or the game afterwards. But I look at those running backs as a whole. So, you have all three of those players that have different types of skillsets and all three of them are very productive. I have always felt that (Marlon) Mack was an underrated player in this league. I think that when you look at the things he does, he does a lot. (Nyheim) Hines is a guy that has unbelievable speed, is an excellent returner, and he has a really good skillset, that's a challenge. And then obviously they drafted the player from Wisconsin (Jonathan Taylor), who is a heck of a player, who has size, speed, and all of that. So, I think when we look at that group as a whole, I think when you look around the league and you look at position groups where you look at their skillsets and really what they've done. What they've done in college, if you're just coming into the league now and what they've done in the NFL. That's a strong room that they have back there with a good offensive line and a veteran quarterback and some good skill on the outside."
New Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden on the challenges that the Colts defensive line presents: "Very much so. They do a great job with their front. It's not a very complicated front. They sprinkle in some blitzes that are nuisance type blitzes that give you problems, but really, it's about the movement with the defensive lineman. They're strong, they're physical, and they have quick movement. We have to handle the movement. They stunt the three-technique, they'll stunt the backside defensive end, the frontside end. The linebackers do a great job of scraping. They're fast and they can run, so how we handle the movement will be if we have any success in the running game or not. Even in the passing game, (in) their ability to stunt and rush the passer, they're very effective in what they do, so it'll be a great challenge for us. They have great skill upfront, (Denico) Autry, (DeForest) Buckner, obviously Justin Houston's still there (and) he's a good player and they rotate guys in there. They're effective in what they do. The defensive coordinator, Eberflus, does a good job of putting these guys in positions to succeed and also moving them around to make it hard on the offense to get set."
Gruden on the challenges that the Colts secondary present: "Well the challenge is good because they give you different looks. They make everything look the same and then all of a sudden, it's (different looks). They do a great job disguising their intent. Then when they have to have it, they play great tight man to man. They get all over. They crawl up in your grill and make it hard to get crossing routes, make it hard to get the ball down the field because their pressure is very good on their defensive line with their four-man rushes, some of their five-man rushes they get home. So, it will be a great challenge for us to recognize man, zone, and then when it is man, be able to separate and get us some good plays. But most importantly, we have to protect the quarterback and give our receivers time to get off the jam, get in the holes in cover two or cover three, whatever coverage they're playing, palms, and be able to have the quarterback be able to read it out. They do a great job if you get forced out of your first read, they can take that thing away. Sometimes you have to get back to your second or third progression against this defense and you have to have time to do that. So, it's going to be critical for our offensive line to give us that time and (quarterback) Gardner (Minshew II) to make sure he recognizes the zones and the receivers as well."
Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II on preparing for the Colts without the benefit of preseason tape but having faced them twice in 2019: "You always kind of know your divisional opponents a little bit more. Having a team that has had a staff that's been there for a little while, you can kind of see year-to-year how they change. I'm expecting they'll definitely have some wrinkles for us, but I think we have a pretty good grasp on what they try to do since they are in division. We played them our last game (of last season). We feel good about our planning."
Minshew on if playing the Colts in Week 17 of 2019 gives him confidence heading into Sunday’s matchup: "I think (looking at) last year, there's definitely things that we can all build on. I think we have a young team, a lot of these same guys coming back. I think ending on the right note definitely gives us confidence going into the offseason. Coming into the season, we know it's a whole new (set of) challenges, but we're very confident, regardless of what happened last year, where we're confident in the preparation we put in, the work we put in. More than anything, we're just excited to get out there."
(Jake Arthur has covered the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for nearly a decade and is a contributor for the team's official website, Colts.com. He’s on Twitter and Facebook @JakeArthurNFL, and his email is email@example.com.)