INDIANAPOLIS – Under normal circumstances, Frank Reich would be in Florida right now attending the NFL’s Annual League Meetings.
There, Reich would be sitting down at a breakfast with members of the media, recapping a busy offseason for his football team.
Reich did half of that on Tuesday, but did it inside of his home in Indianapolis, with the Colts doing their part in practicing social distancing right now.
The head coach and the Colts have gotten quite familiar with the video conferencing app Zoom and are busy holding meetings through that. Reich, Chris Ballard and the scouting staff hold a daily Zoom meeting in preparation for the draft, which begins three weeks from Thursday.
“Chris and I have talked a ton about this,” Reich said about the Colts, and the entire NFL, having to work remotely right now. “Nobody likes it. You want to be with the players. That’s what makes coaching fun, that’s what really it is all about. But there is, dare I say, a level of ‘How are we going to creatively gain a competitive edge?’ This is just another way for us to learn how to get better, learn how to excel. We are working through that. How good can we get at zoom? I’ve already been thinking about constructing team meetings through Zoom, if and when it comes to that point and we are allowed to do this. We are preparing all the behind the scenes stuff for that to happen. As a staff, we meet like (on Zoom). Offensively and defensively, I know (Nick Sirianni and Matt Eberflus) are meeting with the offensive and defensive staffs respectively, ad nauseam, via zoom and really trying everything out, testing things out, how are we going to teach it, just to stay ahead of the curve. And then Bubba (Ventrone) and Frankie (Ross) with special teams. We have a staff meeting Wednesday at 1:00 PM via Zoom where we are going to go over all of these special teams situations that we are going to go over on tape. That’s the thing about this technology. You have to use it. You have to be good at it. And that’s what I’ve said to the staff, ‘You’ve got to become experts at this stuff. You have to learn every little nuance of it and every creative way to help guys get better.’”
In-person offseason activities for the 2020 Colts will not begin on April 20th, as previously scheduled, but the staff is prepared to start those virtually, if the NFL goes ahead with that approach.
What were some of the highlights from Reich talking on Tuesday about a headline-filled month of March?
-On acquiring Philip Rivers: “This was a unique opportunity and I think we have to acknowledge that. This was a crazy, unique opportunity. Philip, who I believe is a future Hall of Fame quarterback and I think whatever he does here in the next year or two, whatever that is, will contribute to that career. When you consider that Nick and I, and (tight ends coach Jason Michael) had a really up close and personal look at this player and competitor and teammate for 3 years, Nick was with him for 5 years, Jason was with him for a while. I went back and looked at all of his film from the last two years and didn’t see any physical drop off in his play… Just having been there on the inside on the three years I was, and knowing the quarterback position like I do, I was so confident that physically he was the right player and he had not lost anything. All the throws that I saw on film and as I go back and study them compared to previous throws, I really didn’t notice any physical gifts diminishing at all. I really didn’t. Then from a juice standpoint in the locker room, this guy brings juice. I think he’s the right fit for our community. One of the things I talked to him about right away, and I got to know his family (in San Diego). Was over at his house several times, I got to know his children, he’s not just coming to be on this team. He’s coming to be in this community. His 9 children can’t wait to move to this community. They all have their Colts gear and are buying it online. This guy is a family man. He fits our community. It’s most important that he fits our team. But I think our fans want to know that he fits what we are as a community. There are a lot of good guys out there and some good quarterbacks to look at, but this was the right guy for us… It wasn’t so much about what Jacoby (Brissett) wasn’t doing, it was about an opportunity to get who we feel is an elite quarterback and can help our team.”
-On what will be the biggest difference in having Rivers under center: “We know what Philip is good at. He gets the ball out quick. When you look at all the stats on how long it takes him to get the ball out of his hand, all these analytics stuff, he’s always at the top of that list. But yet, he also has a unique way of making plays down the field and he’s done that his whole career. The stats point to it. I’ve seen it firsthand. So we just need to find the best ways to utilize out. I also think, most people don’t think about Philip being an (run/pass option) guy, but I think there are aspects of the RPO game that Philip will be really good at. There’s part of the RPO game where the quarterback has the run/option, but there’s a lot of the RPO game that is just quick decisions by the quarterback and being able to throw it at every arm angle, because you are leaving unblocked defenders. So you are leaving a defensive lineman unblocked for instance and now you are asking the quarterback to read a second level player and then navigate the throw and Philip is really good at that. We think he will excel at that as well. And then just the short-rhythm passing game, along with the downfield stuff are things we will accentuate with him.”
-On the knowledge Rivers already has with the playbook, with in-person offseason activity being impacted: “It’s a huge help. He knows the offense. He knows 80 or 85 percent of the offense, maybe more. We’ve changed the wording on a couple of things to make it better. When I tell you he’s elite intellectually, he’s at the top. There’s a rare group of guys in the football world who I would put in that category. Not everybody gets those gifts, he has them. That’ll be to his advantage and to our advantage. When we are able to send him stuff and get our materials, he will be able to pick it up quickly and then as soon as we are able to communicate with him and we are able to talk football and really get into a teaching mode, it won’t take long.”
-On the 20 interceptions Rivers threw last season: “That’s unacceptable. He knows that. We’ve all seen the stats. We understand. You have to put them into perspective. 20 is never good, under any circumstance. Do I look at them with a critical eye? Do I look at them with an educated eye? I’ve read some of those reports that everybody puts out there that, about how many interceptions he threw when the win percentage was this and that. We all know that this guy, I can tell you this guy first hand is not a stat padder. He’s not looking to pad stats. As long as he thinks he has a chance to win, he’s throwing the ball down the field. And when other quarterbacks might be taking check downs, he’s trying to make chunk plays. And the result of that is that he throws a few more interceptions. That’ll be a goal (to cut down). There’s no doubt we want to greatly reduce that number. He knows the responsibility from that position. We just think we’ll have the right team around him to get that number down where it needs to be.”
-On not currently having a quarterback under contract past 2020 and the balance of win now/and the future: “We are trying to win now. It’s important to win now. Our fans want to know that we are going to win now. But Chris does a phenomenal job with his staff. Mr. Irsay is in every loop on this thing about always taking the long road, as well, that we build through the draft and we are staying in the mode. We know with the cap room we had and the money we had to spend, we were able to make some unique moves that we don’t usually make every year, but that can help us now. Every one of these situations is different every year, case-by-case. As far as the quarterback position is concerned, yeah Philip is year-by-year, but we still got Jacoby and we love Jacoby and we feel good about Jacoby. As far as drafting a quarterback, you know how we feel about this, we are always looking hard at the quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee. You identify the one, two, three guys you like, who you think fit. There’s no guarantee you get them because there’s 31 other teams that could get them as well, so you have all of those things going at one time.”
-On the reaction from Brissett upon hearing the Rivers news: “When Chris and I talked about it with Mr. Irsay and what our options were and what we were thinking through, we were content that if it was Jacoby, we were good. We were ready to go. But this was a unique opportunity. When the time was right, I called Jacoby, told him, ‘Hey this looks like it may happen.’ We talked it through. Obviously, Jacoby wasn’t happy about it, but he’s a great teammate, a great leader, we all know that. I’m sure he’ll be good.”
-On Brissett’s 2020 role: “Well, Jacoby is still on the roster so there’s nothing saying Jacoby couldn’t still play some, even though he’s not going to be the starter. There’s nothing say he couldn’t still play. And we think Jacoby has some unique gifts in that way. Everybody knows who Jacoby is. He’s not Lamar Jackson, as far as speed, but he’s tough to bring down. There’s situations on the field and circumstances that we have a lot of trust in Jacoby. We were really good in a couple of areas on offense, I don’t want to go into these in depth, but there were some situational football areas where the Colts were really good at. A big part of that reason was because of Jacoby. So we are wide open. Nick and I have already been talking about this. Well, what does it look like if Jacoby plays 5-to-7 plays a game? We are certainly talking about that, open to that. We will keep all options open. Whatever it takes to win.”
-On believing Brissett can still start in this league: “Yes, the answer to that is yes. Jacoby is still learning and growing. He’s a young quarterback and played a lot of good football last year. For crying out loud, we got off to a 5-2 start, which was crazy, and beat a lot of good teams in doing that. I think the arrow is up. We talked about (going from starter to backup). It’s a hard time. But the general principle is this, and having been through this as a player on teams that went to Super Bowls, where I was a backup quarterback and played in games that were instrumentally important to us in getting homefield advantage and that kind of thing, everybody knows what our goal is and knows that we want to win a championship, so the message is, every person on the roster counts. To me, you better have a backup quarterback, a guy that can step in and win 2 or 3, or however many, games it takes if the starter gets dinged up. And we have that in Jacoby. He’s already proven that. The message to Jacoby is his contract year is up (at the end of 2020) so just have your best year, whatever that looks like. Have your best year and be ready to go. Those games get weighted very heavily for all of Colts Nation and for everyone. I think it’s exciting. I know in one way it’s disappointing for a backup, but at the same time, because Jacoby is such a good teammate, you know we are excited about the trajectory of our team and he’s an important part of it.”
-On the current wide receiver depth of the Colts: “As a coach, you are very biased. You try to be unbiased, but it’s hard to be unbiased. You are very subjective because of the experiences that you have. On one hand, I look at our receiver corps and I’m very excited. T.Y. (Hilton) is a great leader, a great player and he has good years left in him. And then the other guys we have back we feel can play ball. We are looking for a big year from Parris (Campbell). Zach (Pascal) continues to turn everybody’s head and improve what kind of player he is and then the rest of the guys we feel good about. But this is the NFL, so we are always looking to make the team better. We are looking hard at every position, what that looks like, there’s always the combination of addressing what you need but who is the best player when available, in the draft. But, certainly, receiver is a position we are looking hard at.”
-On if the Colts pursued Tom Brady during the free agency process: “We really felt like Philip was the right guy for us. We did look at all the guys. I did look at (Brady’s) tape. The guy is incredible. I watched all of his tape from the last two years, I think he’s still playing a super high level. We all know he’s the best of all time for a reason, as many championships as he’s won. There are a handful of guys like him and Peyton (Manning) and the group that I have the utmost respect for. I don’t understand how he’s (still) doing it. He still threw a couple balls in games where I’m saying, ‘How is this guy throwing the ball this far?’ He’s incredible. I have the utmost respect for him as a player, competitor. For us, we got the guy that is the right fit for us, but this is a guy who I respect and admire immensely along with everybody else…I don’t know if I would say (Brady and the Colts) wasn’t a fit, there’s always a fit when you have a great player, maybe the best player of all time. There’s a lot of factors that go into these things. There’s a lot of factors that go into these things. As Chris and I sat down and talked about it, and there’s factors all over, (Brady’s) standpoint, everybody’s standpoint. The way this thing went, we felt good about the way it went.”
-On if Reich has talked with free agent Adam Vinatieri in recent weeks: “I have not talked to (Vinatieri) in the last few weeks. There was a time right before we got kicked out of the building and I saw him in there doing some rehab and it seemed to be going well. I think my conversations with Adam have just been normal stuff, quick, walking by in the training room or something like that. No decision there yet, at this point. Really out of respect with Adam, Chris and I have just talked about letting Adam get further down the rehab process and then have a sit-down with Adam once he’s a little further along with the rehab process.”
-On the decision to part ways with Pierre Desir and sign Xavier Rhodes: “It was really tough parting ways with Pierre. The Walter Payton Man of the Year, he was a Colt through and through. But a lot of factors go into every decision. That was a tough one, I’m not going to lie. But we move on. This is the NFL. This is a business. You have to be able to feel that way about a player, but not be too sentimental and always do ultimately what you think is the best thing for the team. Going forward, we are excited about Xavier. I’ve coached against Xavier several times. He’s long, he’s tough, he’s physical. He’s got good leadership. We really think he’ll come in and make an impact. We’ll give him a chance to earn him the respect that’s due, but he has to earn it just like everybody else. We are really excited about where we are going on defense with the addition of DeForest and with our young players and our young defense. I think we’ve made some moves there that are really going to help us both with starters and with depth going forward that can help our defense take the next step.”
-On hearing from Chris Ballard about trading the 13th pick for DeForest Buckner: “My immediate reaction was knowing a little bit about DeForest, and knowing schematically what is important to our defense, knowing what we had in the works with Philip, I was 100 percent behind it. I remember back in 2009 or 2010, Tony Dungy came back and did a clinic with our coaching staff and he did it for the whole staff. It was about the importance of the three-technique in the defense. This was a big need for us. And you have an elite player, with elite character, who fits our team, it was a no brainer, as far as I was concerned. The 13th pick is a great pick, for sure, but there’s no guarantees on what we were going to get there and the amount it would take to move up from there to think about all those options and all those other scenarios that we talked about. This was the right move the whole way. There was very little doubt or second guessing about this move. From the moment Chris brought this to me, he had already thought it through and when we sat down and talked through it, I never wavered from it. I was all-in on this decision from the very start.”