Philip Rivers prepares for first season as a Colt amid pandemic

Indianapolis Colts
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INDIANAPOLIS – Philip Rivers smiled as he considered what awaits his Indianapolis Colts and the rest of the NFL.

Remember, it’s what Frank Reich described as a “new normal.’’

No on-field work during the offseason has given way to the preseason schedule being scrubbed and a restructured and graduated training camp.

The regular season? It’s a ‘Go’ for now, but it’s anybody’s guess whether games will be played in front of reduced-capacity crowds, or in empty venues.

The Las Vegas Raiders already have announced their inaugural season in the $2 billion, 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas will unfold without fans. Ditto the New York Giants and New York Jets.

Locally, the latest from the Colts has them following a 25 percent capacity blueprint at Lucas Oil Stadium, but that’s hardly a given. Remember, the plan for the Aug. 23 Indianapolis 500 has retreated from 50 percent occupancy at spacious IMS to 25 percent to no butts in the seats because of growing health and safety issues with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It will be different,’’ Rivers said of the months ahead.

The competitive mentality of his peers, he added, is going to be tested.

“You hear teams and you hear players talk about all the time, ‘We don’t care where we play. We will play in the parking lot. We will play in the backyard,’’’ he said.

“You’re going to find out how true that is this year because it is going to be a little bit more of that environment.’’

Play Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the Lucas Oil Stadium parking lot and at least folks driving down Capitol Avenue can catch a glimpse of Rivers and T.Y. Hilton throwing it around.

“I think it’s going to be new for us,’’ Rivers said.

The lack of preseason games not only eliminates invaluable full-speed reps for every Colt, especially those competing for the final half-dozen roster spots, but also eliminates the opportunity for players to experience the venue they’ll call home on at least eight weekends.

To help compensate for that, Reich plans on having two camp workouts downtown “to kind of get that routine,’’ he said. “We will try to make those practices as game-like as we can.’’

Rivers faced the Colts eight times during his 16 seasons with the Chargers – not to rub it in, but he’s 6-2 – including three times in Indy. He’s played twice at Lucas Oil Stadium and started the 2007 playoff upset at the RCA Dome that Billy Volek finished.

“I know coach has mentioned trying to go over to the stadium a few times in training camp to kind of feel that, get a little bit of a feel for that,’’ Rivers said. “But I think the energy is going to have to come from each other, feeding off of each other and truly just that love to compete.

“If guys need a little external motivation, I imagine it will probably be the most-watched NFL on TV of all time. So if they need that external little motivation to know who is watching, there will be a bunch of them watching.’’

Anyone who has followed Rivers’ career has noticed him feeding off the crowd and from trash-talking opponents. On a larger scale, he believes the lack of fans – and noise – will impact the defense more than his offense.

“If you think about it, it is kind of like having 16 home games in terms of communication,’’ he said. “There won’t be any silent count. You’re not going to have to do a lot of signaling and screaming in the huddle in where some of these tough road places you go.

“But defensively they aren’t going to have that energy to feed off of in Lucas Oil. So it will be different. Everyone is dealing with it in some regard. Some at zero capacity, some with 15,000 in there and, shoot, we need to be the best at dealing with those kind of circumstances.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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