INDIANAPOLIS – It is one of the core traits Chris Ballard seeks out in player evaluation, and it will be critical to overall success in the NFL this season.
You won’t find Ballard speaking on the keys to building a roster, without talking about the importance of the locker room, and finding self-motivated guys who absolutely love the game of football.
That trait has never become more important than in 2020.
With a limited offseason and games played in front of stadiums all but empty, you will find out very quickly who are the players and teams that have still put in the necessary amount of work to be successful.
“You hear teams and players talk all the time, ‘We don’t care where we’ll play. We’ll play in the parking lot. We’ll play in the backyard.’ We are going to find out how true that is this year,” new quarterback Philip Rivers says.
And the Colts see that as a leg up on the rest of the league.
“There is probably not a day that has gone by in the last two weeks that Chris and I haven’t talked about about the maturity of our team,” Reich says. “Naturally, we are biased like anybody is biased. What I said to Chris the other day and I know he is in agreement with this is that I believe this puts our team at a competitive advantage. I really do, I believe that because I believe we have high-character guys, guys who are willing to sacrifice and guys willing to do their best and do the right thing.”
There’s reason for Reich to be so optimistic, thanks to how stringent Ballard’s player acquisition process has been.
Sure, the Colts know there will be a level of ‘luck’ involved in this season avoiding a serious COVID-19 outbreak.
But the head coach also wants to make sure that the Colts are still all-in when it’s time to work, while still taking the necessary precautions.
“The good thing is that we feel we have the players and the organization that has the maturity to not allow this to be a distraction, to understand it’s real, to understand we have a responsibility, but not allow it to be a distraction,” the third-year head coach says. “It becomes much easier to do that when you are really focused on the right things. Our job as coaches and players is to focus on the right things and then just follow the new normal and the new protocols and get to work.”
So far, the Colts have had three players opt out for the 2020 season, after going through the first week of camp without anyone deciding not to play.
Anthony Castonzo pondered that decision long and hard, but he is a firm believer that the Colts will handle this well.
“Just looking around and looking at the guys, I think everybody kind of did what they needed to do this offseason and found a way to stay in shape,” Castonzo said earlier this week. “I can’t see what other teams have going on, but it feels like we might have a leg up in terms of everybody taking care of business.”
Ballard also points to the temperament of Reich as something that benefits the Colts amidst this chaos.
There’s a ‘no panic, no excuse’ mindset that Reich brings to work every day, and embracing that is a must in 2020.
Still, even with the Colts thinking they have this advantage, they know the immense undertaking facing them, and the entire NFL.
“To my young date as a head coach, this has been the ultimate test for us, for Chris and I in our roles, as an organization, our team, for the whole club,” Reich says.
“I just have a lot of confidence that we are going to handle it the right way. Like I just said, that doesn’t mean that we can protect ourselves from everything and at the end of the day it is really going to come down to being able to adapt and adjust and not flinch.”