INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s a different year – year two, to be more precise – but the same message was delivered to essentially the same audience.
Resume the climb, Frank Reich urged the latest edition of the Indianapolis Colts Monday morning. Learn from the mistakes last season that contributed to falling short of reaching the pinnacle of the NFL’s version of Mount Everest.
Do it again and, hopefully, do it better.
Reich tweaked his sermon a bit – gotta keep things fresh – but the overriding theme as the Colts opened their offseason program was strikingly similar to the one he shared 12 months ago in his first meeting with the players.
“Last year at that meeting we laid a foundation,’’ he said Saturday. “We’re not going to have a new foundation. The goal is to build another story, to go higher on the mountain, all those things.’’
In the painful aftermath of the 31-13 beat-down at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round of the playoffs in January, Reich compared the Colts’ inspiring but unfulfilled journey through 2018 to mountain climbing. Sometimes, he noted, you aren’t able to reach the top. Sometimes you get there on the second or third attempt.
The key: remembering and following the steps taken that put you in position to succeed in the first place.
“I think we just have to be careful,’’ Reich said in mid-January. “Just because we made it pretty far – we accomplished a lot – we didn’t get where we wanted to get to, but I think we have to take the same approach. Very methodical, very disciplined, focused on the process.
“Don’t get caught up in putting expectations of how many wins or how far.’’
There’s no question expectations have dramatically changed.
Last season and coming off an Andrew Luck-less 4-12 finish in 2017, few outside observers envisioned the Colts doing much more than perhaps inching close to 8-8. They were a young bunch, still a year or two away from returning to contender’s status.
Now, the buzz around the Colts has returned. They are considered a bona fide threat in the AFC.
“There’s no question that there’s this raised expectation,’’ Reich said at the owners meetings. “We can talk forever about how, ‘Hey, it’s a whole new year, gotta start fresh.’ You almost have to think that, given the trajectory, given the age of the team, given it’s the second year.
“We get in our building, we get in the meeting room and we keep the same mindset we had last year. And that mindset works. That’s not gonna change. As a coach, you find ways to continually re-emphasize that same mindset. And you really count on the players to keep that same mindset. And that’s what separates the men from the boys, as far as coaching is concerned.
“That’s why it’s so hard to maintain being at the top all the time.’’
So Reich used his re-introductory meeting with the players Monday to remind them what’s truly important.
“The higher you go when you build,’’ he said a few days ago, “the more important it is to make sure that foundation is deep and secure. We’ll probably have what will be an annual foundation inspection: ‘Let’s re-check our foundation.’’’
Along with what appears to be a solid foundation, Reich can rely on a slew of familiar faces. Twenty-one of the 22 starters in the playoff loss to the Chiefs return. General manager Chris Ballard has re-signed six of the team’s 15 unrestricted free agents and six of its seven restricted free agents.
There are only three outside additions to this point: free agents Justin Houston and Devin Funchess, and safety Derrick Kindred, who was claimed off waivers from Cleveland. No one should casually dismiss the value of roster continuity in an otherwise nomadic NFL.
“It just helps us out a lot because (returnees) know the system, they know what we are about,’’ linebacker Darius Leonard said. “We don’t have to worry about too many outsiders coming in.
“We always talk about the locker room and our locker room is special because we don’t have egos in there. Everybody is brothers.’’
The NFL will announce the 2019 schedule Wednesday evening at 8.
As a refresher, here are the Colts’ home and road opponents:
- Home: Tennessee, Houston, Jacksonville, Denver, Oakland, Atlanta, Carolina and Miami.
- Away: Tennessee, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh.
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