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INDIANAPOLISIt’s early (ok, very early) but the Colts and the NFL have had a pretty good start to camp from a COVID standpoint.

On the field, the Colts are now able to practice, in a non full-padded setting, following a week of strength and conditioning to start this year’s camp.

Beginning on Monday, the Colts can start having full-padded practices. That will continue for the rest of August and into September, with final roster cuts coming Saturday, September 5th.

What were some of the  main highlights from Frank Reich meeting the media on Wednesday?

-Reich on if the Colts will try and have some players in hotels for training camp: “Our approach to it has been our cultural approach. It’s almost like a cultural bubble. We are not going crazy and we aren’t trying to tell guys, ‘You shouldn’t go out. You shouldn’t do this. You shouldn’t do that.’ We are talking about guidelines and safe practices and being reasonable, taking reasonable precautions and then trusting our guys to do that. So far, it’s been a good start with the time that we’ve been here. Our guys have done a good job and we have not had any cases come up. That’ll be our approach. We will always be ready to adjust, if needed, but right now we feel comfortable with the approach we are taking.”

Bowen’s Analysis: It is a bit surprising to me that we haven’t seen more teams, including the Colts, have players in hotels for camps, like you normally would. The Saints and Cowboys are doing this, but the Colts are one of the many teams letting guys sleep in their own homes. Having said that, the NFL (and the Colts) deserve a major pat on the back for how the testing results have looked now three weeks into camp. The positive rates are extremely low, with the Colts having not had a player test positive in two weeks. Even Reich admitted he’s been a bit surprised to see how strong the news has been in that department so far. Now, as Reich cautioned, it’s early in this process and there can be no let up in the strict approach to adhering to the proper guidelines, but the expectation was also to see many more positives tests early on, with players reporting back to their respective NFL towns. What we’ve seen from the NFL is part of my own optimism in why I think this season can/will start on time.

-Reich utilizing so many tight ends in his offense: “I really do think this is a team game but within the game there’s these little matchups that you have to find, create and take advantage of. One of those I think is at the tight end position…It’s a really big dynamic how you use those tight ends.”

Bowen’s Analysis: Frank Reich could talk about tight ends about as long as he can talk about his daughters. He loves tight ends. And it’s no surprise for a guy who has coached Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates, Zach Ertz, etc. Several other tight ends (i.e. Trey Burton, Eric Ebron) have had career years with Reich, too. Reich really stressed on Wednesday how TEs can allow you to be unpredictable if the defense is predicting whether the offense is throwing or running. Now, Reich also mentioned that the scheme itself can help protect an ‘average blocking tight end’ if the offense is trying not to tip its hand. It’ll be interesting to see how the Colts use Jack Doyle, Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox this season, and if they keep another tight end on the 53-man roster.

-Reich on needing to talk to Malik Hooker about his rookie option not being picked up and his outlook in a contract year: “I think Malik is going to handle it really well because Malik has been on this trajectory since we’ve been here as a staff where he just keeps getting better. I think physically and with the scheme he’s coming into his own…It is what it is. This if the NFL. You have to earn it every day here. Guys aren’t surprised when a contract situation comes like Malik’s situation. You just have to go out and have a great year and we expect him to do that.”

Bowen’s Analysis: While Reich did not want to use the term ‘coddling’ in describing the need to reach out to Hooker at some point this offseason about what happened to the safety this year in terms of his future in Indy, the head coach acknowledged an amount of ‘respect’ that players have in these situations. That means you don’t totally ignore the elephant in the room, but realize competition defines the NFL and it is time to perform. While Hooker’s future outlook in Indy is murky, he needs a strong season himself for his upcoming free agency, and that would obviously benefit the 2020 Colts, too.

-Reich on carrying a 3rd quarterback on the 53-man roster this season: “Chris (Ballard) and I talk about it all the time. That’s to be determined but all options are open as we continue to progress forward and see where the roster is at that time. We will weigh the pros and cons of going with two versus going with three.”

Bowen’s Analysis: Even though the Colts have stayed away from keeping 3 quarterbacks in prior years, that is expected to change this season. Unless they think that Jacob Eason can make it through waivers and onto the practice squad, following the end of camp, it seems wisest to place the rookie on the 53-man roster and have him protected there. Sure, you’d be taking away a roster spot from another position, but it’s not the end of the world when talking about the most important position in sports. If I were guessing, Eason beats out Chad Kelly, and joins Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett on the final roster.

-Rivers on the running back workload between Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor: “Marlon is the starter. He’s earned it and has had a couple of really good years for us. But we are going to continue to take the same approach that we’ve had where it’s week in and week out, hot hand, all those things. We are expecting big things from all our backs, but in particular Marlon. He looks good and just feel good about how the backs complement each other. That’s a strong room for us.”

Bowen’s Analysis: Hello fantasy owners, here’s some news. Yes, this was definitely the anticipation for the 2020 Colts, but Reich confirmed it on Wednesday. Mack is going to be the Week 1 starter and will probably keep that title for the majority, if not all of, 2020. Of course, as Reich points out, the Colts will be riding the hot hand and you know Jonathan Taylor will factor into a lot of carries. Still, Mack deserves to start, especially without any preseason reps this offseason. The carry split between them will fluctuate, but I’m guessing Mack still out carries Taylor this season, barring injuries.