INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – If there truly is an offseason to that year-‘round enterprise we call the NFL, we’re in it.
But even that comes with a caveat.
As Frank Reich gathered his Indianapolis Colts for the last time Thursday before everybody reconvenes at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield in late July, he made certain they understood what’s ahead.
Take the next week, he insisted, and recover from the extensive three-month offseason program that culminated with the three-day mandatory minicamp.
Then, take the next four weeks to ensure you’re ready for what’s to come. That would be training camp in Westfield, four preseason games, 16 regular-season games and, hopefully, so much more.
Summer vacation? Only as it can be worked into each player’s specialized workout regimen.
“We trust our players will take care of business over the break, stay in good shape and come back ready to go,’’ Reich said.
Even though players fully comprehend the importance of maintaining their physical and mental well-being as it pertains to the Colts, the team is covering its bases. Individualized workouts are designed by Rusty Jones, the director of sports performance, and Richard Howell, the head of strength of conditioning.
“We have very specific plans for the guys,’’ Reich said. “You kind of make them a little playbook for this four weeks. We really want to be detailed on that.
“We really think we can gain a competitive advantage in these four weeks because self-motivated players win the way. That’s how you get better. We feel like over that four-week period of working out, we can gain an edge on 31 other teams if we take care of business.’’
That in mind, here are a few observations from the Colts’ offseason work:
No Luck? No problem: That’s got a nice ring to it, and it’s probably accurate. But let’s get one thing straight: it’s never a good thing when your franchise quarterback misses a practice, let alone the entire offseason of on-field work.
Luck suffered a strained calf early and it turned out to be more troublesome that anyone expected. However, he vowed to be ready when things amp up in Westfield.
“I’ll be ready for training camp,’’ he said.
Added Reich: “Barring anything crazy, in my mind it’s more of a no-brainer.’’
The downside to Luck missing the extended practice time is not having the opportunity to work with free-agent wideout Devin Funchess or rookie Parris Campbell. Each is expected to play major roles this season.
However, let’s keep in mind Luck also missed the entirety of last offseason while he was completing his rehab on his right shoulder. He went on to have one of the best seasons of his career: 4,593 yards, 39 touchdowns, 67.3 completion percentage, a 98.7 passer rating.
Sending a message: Chris Ballard has talked repeatedly of building a championship roster from within. Draft your own, develop your own, re-sign your own. The past few months have been evidence he’s not just flapping his gums.
In the span of 10 days, Ballard wheeled out four-year extensions for punter Rigoberto Sanchez, long-snapper Luke Rhodes and nickel corner Kenny Moore II. What’s most interesting about the deals? They weren’t necessary. Each player would have been a restricted free agent at the end of 2019, meaning the Colts have had held the leverage in retaining him for 2020 at a very team-friendly price.
“Chris has made it clear those guys really embody what being a Colt is all about,’’ Reich said. “I just think that it sends the right message that those are the kind of guys we want around for the long term.’’
The Colts previously worked extensions for Adam Vinatieri, Clayton Geathers, Margus Hunt, Pierre Desir and Mark Glowinski.
“It shows a lot of character from the Colts organization,’’ Sanchez said. “They take care of their guys when you take care of them on the field and off the field.’’
It’s conceivable Ballard isn’t finished on the extension front. We won’t be surprised if the next one goes to left tackle Anthony Castonzo, perhaps before the start of the season. He turns 31 in August and is entering the final year of his contract.
No inside info, just a hunch.
Medical matters: We never get overly enthused, or disappointed, with how players perform during the offseason. There’s no contact, remember? It’s basically flag football without the flags.
Too often, a player shines during the offseason or even in preseason games, but fades or disappears altogether. Remember Caesar Rayford? Duron Carter?
We tend to pay more attention to which players aren’t able to participate for whatever reason: recovering from a surgery – or procedure, which a few players opted to call their situation – or continued rehab from an injury. The weekly list of non-participants this offseason was long, but nothing should trickle into training camp.
Tight end Eric Ebron (groin) was in uniform and saw limited work during minicamp. Tight end Jack Doyle (hip) was running routes after practice. Jabaal Sheard (unknown) returned for minicamp after missing the previous three weeks. Clayton Geathers (knee) missed all of the offseason, but insisted he’ll be ready for camp. Deon Cain (knee) also missed the offseason, and might be the one player who’ll most be eased into camp.
Quincy Wilson was held out of minicamp with an injury to his left thumb. The most unfortunate medical situation of the offseason involved seventh-round draft pick Javon Patterson, who suffered a torn ACL.
Rookie impact: The Colts set an Indy-era team record and led the NFL by starting five rookies in last season’s opener: Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, Jordan Wilkins, Braden Smith and Skai Moore. By season’s end, five other rookies started at least one game. Nelson and Leonard were the first rookie teammates named first-team All-Pro since Chicago’s Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus in 1965.
According to Next Gen Stats, the Colts led the NFL in highest percentage of snaps by rookies (22 percent). Next in line: the Baltimore Ravens (13 percent).
That’s a high bar for the class of 2019.
The Colts return 21 of 22 starters from the bunch that won nine of its last 10 games and earned a wild-card playoff berth – we consider wideout Ryan Grant the only absentee – and we won’t be surprised if, barring injury, no rookie is able to crack the starting lineup for the opener against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Maybe Ben Banogu proves us wrong, but it probably would be at SAM linebacker and not at defensive end, where he primarily worked at minicamp. Maybe it’s Campbell, but only if Reich opens in a three-receiver set. That might feature Hilton and Funchess outside and Campbell in the slot, if he’s able to supplant Chester Rogers. Maybe it’s Rock Ya-Sin, if Wilson, a returning corner, is unable to build upon a solid finish to ’18.
A contender: Put stock in offseason power rankings at your own risk. Virtually every ranking lists Indy into the top 10. Peter King has the Colts No. 3 behind Kansas City and New England.
At the risk of treading into ‘homer-ish’’ territory, we’re not certain how you leave the Colts out of any top 10. Top 5? Well, we won’t talk you off that ledge.
In our mind, Ballard, Reich and the personnel staff have constructed a roster that’s as strong – top-to-bottom strong – as any since the Colts’ 2009 squad, which reached the Super Bowl and lost to New Orleans. There are no obvious flaws, voids or whatever you want to call it.
The offense ranked 7th in total yards and 5th in scoring a year ago. Luck should be more in control of Reich’s offense in his second season in the system and second season back from missing 2017. The offensive line returns intact. Campbell brings playmaking skills. Funchess replacing Ryan Grant is an upgrade. Doyle is eager to return to his Pro Bowl form after missing 10 games with his hip and kidney injuries.
The defense ranked in the top-11 in yards and scoring for the first time since 2008, and was led by Leonard, the Defensive Rookie of the Year. The group lacked enough playmakers, but adding Justin Houston addressed that.
Anything less than another playoff appearance should be considered a major disappointment. The schedule and list of opposing quarterbacks – Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Deshaun Watson, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton – are daunting.
But the Colts appear in position to handle it.
And be sure to catch the Colts Bluezone Podcast: