WESTFIELD, Ind.– Whatever motivation was needed came from the top.
The boss – that would be Jim Irsay – had a few things to get off his chest Tuesday evening as his team – the Indianapolis Colts – prepared for their first training camp practice session at Grand Park Sports Campus.
It was an in-person message, lasted roughly 15 minutes and went directly to his expectations for the upcoming season. Irsay stressed the need to work together, digging deep and appreciating and seizing the moment.
Those expectations, by the way, are rather high. Irsay has one Lombardi Trophy in his possession. He craves more.
Irsay spoke to a captive, receptive audience of players and coaches. Carson Wentz, the unquestioned key to whether the Colts are able to satisfy their owners’ expectations following the February trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, listened intently.
He agreed everyone has high expectations.
“We do,’’ Wentz said after his first practice Wednesday morning. “And I love that because I’ve always been wired that way, to have high expectations. Coming in here I could feel it in the spring, right after the trade, just the culture.
“It was different.’’
“It’s a family,’’ Wentz said. “It truly feels like a family. It’s always talked about in the locker room… ‘It’s a family. It’s a family.’ It’s different here. Even in the community… just feels like a big family with everyone supporting and encouraging each other.
“But the expectations are there. Having Mr. Irsay talk to us got me kind of fired up last night. He’s still got a lot of passion and a lot of energy and I think he got a lot of guys excited.’’
It’s not a stretch to insist the Colts are in win-now mode.
General manager Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich aren’t being driven by an all-or-nothing mentality heading into 2021, but the roster is a nice blend of promising young talent and proven veterans.
Expectations begin with building on last season’s 11-5 finish that earned a wild-card berth. The ultimate end game: Super Bowl LVI Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.
“As a team you always want to win a Super Bowl,’’ nickel back Kenny Moore II said. “In order for us to do that, step 1 is winning the division and we have to take care of practice each day and then week 1 is the most important game.’’
The Colts last won the AFC South in 2014. The last time they reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons: 2013-14.
Irsay mentioned during the offseason his franchise will go as far as Wentz takes it.
And he’s right.
That’s why Wentz, who’s coning off a disastrous 2020 in Philly – 15 interceptions, 50 sacks, being benched for the final four games – figures to be the focal point as training camp unfolds.
Yes, the further development of coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense and quick assimilation of rookie end Kwity Paye is critical.
Of course there will be a ton of interest in how offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and his staff are able to compensate at left tackle until Eric Fisher’s rehab from a torn Achilles is complete, which might not be until early October.
And yes, eyes will be on 31-year old wideout T.Y. Hilton and 22-year old running back Jonathan Taylor as they provide pass-run threats to the Wentz-led offense.
But let’s not kid ourselves. The lights will shine brightest on Carson Wentz.
“It was a great first day,’’ he said.
For the record in these COVID-19 times, Wentz wore a mask while talking with the media but declined to address whether he’s been vaccinated.
“That’s a personal decision,’’ he said.
On the field, Wentz had his good moments and moments that will require correction during post-practice video sessions.
“I thought he did well,’’ said Brady, who’s helping run practice while Reich remains in quarantine following a positive COVID-19 test. “Made some great checks in the run game, in the pass game.
“We put a lot on his plate mentally and he handled that very well. He threw the ball well today. Had a few missed throws but it was the first time getting out here with defenders in our receivers’ face so it’s all new to them.’’
In team drills and 7-on-7 work, Wentz completed 12-of-20 passes, but it wasn’t that erratic. Mo Alie-Cox had two drops and Jack Doyle and Michael Pittman Jr. one each. Backup Jacob Eason was 7-for-14 in similar drills.
Wentz takes “a little bit of everything’’ into account when analyzing his practice.
“How were you understanding your reads, your progressions? Getting through the plays, all that,’’ he said. “Accuracy, incompletions, all of that is part of it.
“There are going to be mistakes out here, especially our first day. There’s going to be some good, some bad, some ugly. We’ll just get back in and learn from it.’’
The Colts’ offense was more than adequate in 2020 with Philip Rivers under center. It ranked 10th in total yards and 9th in scoring.
The transition to Wentz should offer more options. Whereas Rivers had good pocket presence, he never was a threat to create outside the pocket. Not only does Wentz possess a strong arm, but also mobility.
There were a few occasions Wednesday when Wentz ran the zone-read, faked a handoff to a running back and kept the football and headed upfield.
“Just putting him in those type of situations,’’ Brady said. “He’s naturally going to do it if the pocket breaks down and get out of the pocket. Couple of zone reads, but not too many. We don’t want him running around to much risking injury.’’
Wideouts are optimistic Wentz’ arrival will inject more of a down-the-field aspect to the passing game.
“I think it just brings more opportunity for us,’’ said Parris Campbell. “We all know he’s mobile, he has a big arm, he likes to get out of the pocket and make plays with his feet.
“He’s going to bring that playmaker-type atmosphere.’’
Added Hilton: “We’re going to look great, explosive. I mean we’ve got a run game. He’s able to do what he can do outside the pocket. And he has a big arm so if plays break down, he’s able to get out of the pocket and keep plays alive with his legs.
“He has all the intangibles.’’
Training camp is a time for the camaraderie to solidify. But the bonding began during the offseason. It was during the two-week OTA period and when Wentz and his receivers shared throwing sessions in his hometown Houston and in California.
“It was probably almost every other week I was getting some work in with teammates,’’ Wentz said. It’s been good. I’ve been in California with a couple of them, in Texas, been here a handful of times.’’
The bonding included time away from the practice field. Wentz and his new teammates spent time golfing.
“It was cool,’’ said running back Nyheim Hines, who was one of the Colts involved in the Houston workouts. “It was hot. It was great just being at Carson’s house, being around him some and having quality time with him off the field.
“I think I’ve gotten to know him pretty well. I’ve seen how he acts when he has a bad golf game because we both had terrible golf games.’’
Bad golfing aside, Wentz values the away-from-the-field time with his teammates.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “The off-the-field stuff is what we all cherish. It’s the relationships you make in the locker room that you’ll remember long after this game.
“Those bonds will really help us out.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.