Frank Reich has open-door policy with players, and Quenton Nelson knocked

Indianapolis Colts
quenton nelson

FILE – Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson (56) runs downfield to block during an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Indianapolis in this Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, file photo. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger, File)

INDIANAPOLIS – It was less than 2 minutes of Wednesday’s Episode 3 of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,’’ but it was impossible to ignore.

There was Frank Reich on the sidelines, arms crossed. His Indianapolis Colts had just suffered a fourth turnover – Nyheim Hines’ muffed punt – and Tom Brady was back in business early in the fourth quarter Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Reich’s thought process was interrupted by a tug on his left arm.

Quenton Nelson needed to get something off his massive chest.

If the defense stops them here, could we get like a straight run call? JT’s hungry.

Yeah. OK.

They clasped hands.

Nelson’s next stop was Jonathan Taylor, who was seated on the bench, preparing for whatever was to come.

I told coach we’ve got the best back in the league and he’s hungry. Feed him. Let’s go . . . play Colts football.

They fist-bumped.

The defense got the necessary stop, limiting the Brady-led Tampa Bay offense to a 25-yard field goal. Ten minutes remained, but the Colts still were within reach at 31-24.

They were able to – that’s right – Run The Damn Ball.

And they did. On the ensuing 10-play, 75-yard drive, Reich kept dialing up  Taylor’s number. The NFL’s leading rusher took eight handoffs and accounted for 58 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown that produced a 31-all tie.

After Taylor’s league-best 14th rushing TD, Nelson again approached Reich.

Way to (expletive) trust him!

There was another celebratory clasp of hands.

That clip spoke volumes, and we’re not talking about whether it took Nelson’s nudge to remind Reich his best offensive player was Jonathan Taylor. By the way, that almost assuredly wasn’t the case even though that was a major talking point in the aftermath of the 38-31 loss to the Bucs.

Beginning with a 2-minute drive to end the first half, Carson Wentz dropped back to throw on 26 consecutive plays. Taylor was targeted four times – two catches, 3 yards – and was a run-option on several RPOs, but went nearly 27 minutes of game time between rushing attempts.

There’s every reason to believe Taylor and the run game might have returned as the offensive focal point with the game on the line without Nelson’s request. That’s been the case at times in the past. Besides, the Buccaneers had softened their defense, easing the loaded box and concentrating on coverage.

“We really didn’t think they would stick with the run,’’ Bucs coach Bruce Arians said.

You can draw your own conclusions from the Nelson/Reich in-game interaction.

The overriding point: it wasn’t an aberration or a flashpoint.

Give-and-take moments between players and coach/play callers take place throughout a game. The difference on “Hard Knocks:’’ Reich not only is the play caller, but the head coach. Anytime someone of note – and Quenton Nelson is of note – approaches the head coach on the sideline, who’s often standing alone, it draws special attention.

All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard always is making suggestions during a game. The difference is his comments are directed at coordinator Matt Eberflus on the periphery, not Reich.

“I never went to Frank. That’s not my thing,’’ Leonard said. “I talk to Flus every series. If I see something on tape or on the field, I come out and say, ‘We should try this.’

“When you’re a true competitor, you believe in your guys and you believe in what you’re doing. When you feel like something would work, you go to the coach. ‘Hey, coach, can we do something here? Can we do this here?’ Yeah, I’ve done that plenty of times. That goes down to being a leader.

“Sometimes he listens, sometimes they do what they do.’’

Leonard smiled when he considered Nelson’s “meeting’’ with Reich.

“That’s just Q being Q,’’ he said. “That’s a leader being a leader. You’ve got the best back in the league and the fourth quarter when the game’s on the line. Defensively for me, if the game’s on the line, put me in position to make a play.

“He wanted that for JT. He wanted the game to be put on the o-line’s shoulders. That’s what you want from a true leader. It let you know Q-Nellie’s not going to back down from anybody.’’

Wideout T.Y. Hilton described Reich as a head coach who’s approachable, whether that’s during the week or during a game.

“I probably do it whenever I feel we need a play or something,’’ he said. “Haven’t (done) it in a minute.

“He’s a player’s coach. We feed off one another. Quenton told him to run the ball and he trusted in Quenton and we moved the ball down the field. It’s that trust you have with your coach.’’

Of course, not every player has carte blanche access to the coach, especially in the heat of a game.

“Depends on who you are,’’ Hilton said with a smile.

Taylor was a central figure in Sunday’s game and in the “Hard Knocks’’ snippet, but he’s never had the urge to offer advice during game.

“I have not gone to a coach before,’’ he said. “I just always believe in a coach just because whoever I played for, I believe they’re in that position for a reason. Their job is to see what we can do better or put us in the best position for success.

“I truly believe that is what coach Reich is doing, and coach Marcus (Brady, offensive coordinator).’’

Taylor wasn’t surprised that Nelson felt empowered enough to approach Reich in the fourth quarter of a game against the defending world champions.

“Not at all,’’ he said. “Quenton’s a leader and those guys always are in communication with coach Reich. And coach Reich trusts Quenton and all of us on the team trust Quenton as well.

“He came up to me and I was sitting down and he said he wanted to run the ball. I told him I was with him. I didn’t see him go up to coach Reich, but coach Reich is always open.’’

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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