INDIANAPOLIS – Memorial Day weekend for Frank Reich included some family time and the refreshing entertainment of live sports back on.
Yes, like virtually everyone in the state of Indiana, Reich was happy that Peyton Manning (“his iron play was great,” Reich said) and Tiger Woods beat Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson in “The Match.”
With some live sports, sans fans, starting to trickle its way back into normalcy, Reich and his staff are now about halfway done with their spring offseason program.
Two months from the start of training camp, if all things go according to plan, the Colts still have another month left in their virtual spring activity.
What were some of the highlights from Reich meeting the media on Tuesday morning?
On the 2020 Colts: “I think Colts fans should be really excited right now. I know you don’t want to get overhyped and you’d rather under promise and over deliver and all that stuff, but I’m excited. I think Colts Nation should be excited. This roster is a good roster, good players, good talent and equally as important to Colts Nation, good men, who will represent us well on the field.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Unprompted on Tuesday, Reich shared his genuine excitement for his team in 2020. Reich said he was looking at the Colts depth chart on Monday night and texted Chris Ballard to tell the GM how impressed he was with the ‘measured, calculated, poised’ approach to the roster building. Reich likes how Ballard leans a lot on the coaching staff to see what they need, making things collaborative in the scouting process. Why the more aggressive approach from the Colts this offseason, with the rare skill attention early in the draft? Reich did say the arrival of Philip Rivers, plus the stableness to the roster now, led to the change in approach this offseason.
On DeForest Buckner being worthy of the No. 13 pick, including checking the character box: “It was the opposite of the perfect storm in a good way. It was the key need for our defense. He’s got Colts character on and off the field. We have our ways of vetting that out. In the case of DeForest, it’s easy, because he’s always been the same guy, has always been top notch everywhere he’s gone. We couldn’t be more excited about that piece.”
Bowen’s Analysis: We hadn’t heard Reich comment specifically about this part of the Buckner trade yet. It’s another reminder that strictly Buckner, the player, would not have been enough to give up the 13th overall pick. But what Buckner brings from a character/leadership standpoint, created the total package, that made the Colts feel that this move was a no brainer. We will have more on this later in the week, but Reich mentioned on Tuesday that the Colts are very eager to see a defensive line rush package of Buckner, Justin Houston and Kemoko Turay working together in 2020.
On any concerns about offensive line depth: “We talked a lot about that. I am really hopeful that we can go again with our same five starters playing every snap. I don’t know how realistic that is. I wonder what the record is of consecutive (games started by the same starting offensive line). I don’t want to say (the depth is) a concern, but it’s always a priority. If the right opportunity would have fell in the draft, there was discussion of finding the right guy, but it just didn’t fall that way for us. We will continue to develop there and keep our eyes open.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Reich knows full well the unlikelihood that the Colts have the same starting five offensive linemen for all 16 games again in 2020. They were the only team in the NFL to have that happen last year. So, that likely means, the offensive line depth will need to be counted on in 2020, in some capacity. On Tuesday, Reich first pointed to rookie Danny Pinter as a depth piece in the inside. He also mentioned returning guard Jake Eldrenkamp as an inside depth option. This concern post-draft is something the Colts are looking into, and it will start to take shape come camp.
On the development of Parris Campbell in Year Two: “I’m super pumped about Parris and where the upside is. We didn’t get to see him enough (last year). He was hurt a lot. I’m proud of the way Parris has been handling the offseason. He’s been doing everything possible. He’s working out hard. I’m staying very much in touch with him, and with the trainers and what he’s doing and watching that whole process unfold. He’s really determined. He still has to have things go his way and stay healthy. He missed a lot of practice time, too. It wasn’t just that he missed games. He missed a lot of practice time. He missed most of the (2019 offseason program). We’ve been around him enough, I see things in Parris, I see really good wide receiver skills. Obviously, we all see the speed, but I think he’s got deceptive power and I think he’s got the footwork to where he can play inside or out. He will play more in the slot this year. But we will move him around, we will move everybody around, that’s just the way we roll. If you play one wide receiver position, you need to play all three because we need to move guys around to scheme things up and do what we do with personnel things and to accentuate what each guy does best. But super excited about Parris and just need to get him on the field so he can develop more as a route runner.”
Bowen’s Analysis: We wrote about Campbell last week and how disappointing of a rookie season he had, with 4 different injuries, compared to many other wideouts drafted around him. Reich has always been really high on Campbell’s ability to become a complete route runner in the NFL, which was a question on the speedster leaving Ohio State. As Reich points out, Campbell did miss so much valuable time, away from games, in developing his own game last year. Campbell might be the Colts offensive player who can raise the offensive ceiling the most in 2020, given his explosive element.
On evaluating rookies during this virtual period: “It’s harder because we don’t get them on the field. Lots of classroom work. We do get the rookies for longer, so once the vets get excused (in a few weeks), we still get the rookies a little bit longer, so we get some one-on-one time with them so that’s been helpful. When they are in a group setting with everybody (including the veterans), they are probably more on the quiet side, but now you get them 1-on-1 and there’s no place to hide, so you get to know them. Secondly, we are trying to get those guys to send in videos, especially the rookies. We are pushing the rookies more, ‘Send us video. We want to see your body moving and how you come out of your stance, how you come out of a break, how you break on a ball.’ Those little things we can get a little bit of a head start. It’s not ideal.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Virtual life will remain for the Colts, possibly (probably) through the final month of the offseason program. In a normal spring offseason, Reich and the Colts would be starting up OTA team sessions on-field. Now, they are using Tic-Tac-Toe and Pictionary to break up the monotony of Zoom life. The Colts have changed up their schedule with players (going from 4 sessions each week during the first 3 weeks of the offseason program, to now 3 days a week, Tuesday-Thursday, for the next 4 weeks). Along with having Doc Rivers and Ray Allen speak to the team via Zoom, Reich and the staff are trying to get the players to focus on visualizing during this time. That might mean visualizing stadiums with limited, or no, attendance come game days.
On why rookie wideouts tend to struggle in Year One: “It’s a great question because it’s one we think about and talk about a lot. If I had to say there was one thing, I would say the quality of press coverage at this level is so much better than the quality of press coverage at the previous level. And then on top of that, it’s like old NBA rules. It can get pretty physical out there. The DBs are really physical at this level and there’s a lot of grabbing and holding that goes on, a lot of within the rules, some of it outside the rules, but that’s just the game. We tell our guys all the time, ‘Just expect to get grabbed. Don’t expect to get the call.’ That’s a transition. In college, they just don’t see as much press coverage. And when they do see press coverage it’s just not even near the caliber of what we see here. I think that’s the biggest thing, just the physical nature of press coverage and it’s such a prominent part. There’s the mental side of it, but most of the guys are pretty good mentally. A lot of these college systems have just gone to this no-huddle, they get limited time with their players, so very limited systems, very, very simple systems. We are just a little bit more sophisticated at this level.”
Bowen’s Analysis: This is something Chris Ballard mentioned in the pre-draft process. With how the college game has evolved, there are more wideouts drafted, but it’s hard to accurately know their professional transitions, because the position has differences at the next level. Reich has mentioned that he thinks Michael Pittman is ahead of the curve, having the physical and emotional maturity to be a key contributor from Day 1.
On pass interferences challenges going away in 2020: “I think it’s the right thing for right now. Do I think there’s a way to modify it for the future? Maybe so. We did get that one call. It was a huge call in the Denver game on T.Y. (Hilton). I think it gives us a chance to go back and look at it and see if there’s anyway to modify it and make it better. For now, we’ll just chalk it up for experience and put it to the side.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Challenging pass interference calls was a mess for the entire NFL last season. And Reich probably shares the sentiment of most head coaches around the league. Last week, Reich did comment on the debate of having a 4th-and-15 play be substituted for the onside kick, up to two times a game for each team. Reich is open-minded to the idea and thinks the Colts could benefit from such situations.