INDIANAPOLIS – Football talk could wait a bit on Monday morning.
The human side of Frank Reich came out first on this Monday, as the head coach drummed up his previous days as a preacher to share his thoughts about the topic of injustice, which has once again become a frontline story across the country.
Reich began his weekly call with the media reading the following statement:
“Injustice, few things stir the human heart and soul like injustice. When we see it, feel it, experience it, it’s heart wrenching. It’s not enough for a person, who looks like me, to say, ‘I’m not racist.’ This kind of talk and thinking typically lends itself to a posture of neutrality and indifference and passivity. It’s easier to be silent and do nothing when it doesn’t directly impact you. This attitude simply doesn’t invoke any conviction about doing what is right and standing up for the inherent dignity and rights of all people, no matter the color of their skin. I stand firmly behind the Colts statement (from Sunday) and in particular, the phrase that says, ‘We abhor racism.’ Racism is vile, deplorable, detestable. There’s no form of it that is acceptable and in no way can it be justified. Our black community has bore the justice far too long. I believe that I—we—all have a personal responsibility to speak up and act in ways that build each other up, not to tear each other down. I believe each one of us can make a difference if we are willing to grow personally and display the courage necessary for us to take steps of progress in this most important of issues.”
Under the current virtual schedule, Reich had last talked to his team in a full group setting back on Thursday (the current schedule for the Colts is meeting Tuesday-Thursday).
Chris Ballard joined Reich last Thursday to talk to their team about the tragic death of George Floyd, and allowed for some players to give their thoughts.
“It’s hard to know the exact thing to say, but I just knew we had to say something because we are a family, as a football team,” Reich said on Monday. “We have a hard time of fully understanding sometimes what other people are feeling, there’s just something innately inside of what we saw what happened in Minnesota (which Reich added was ‘heart-wrenching’), what we see what happens in general with these issues. Innately, we all know something is wrong, something must be said. I just felt that we couldn’t be silent. What we talked about is individually, and organizationally, the responsibility that we have given the platform we have to try and make a difference.
“Our players are hurting, many of them are hurting. They feel the pain of this. Because of that, I feel it. When someone in your family is hurting, we all know it. If you truly believe it’s family, when someone in your family is hurting, you are hurt.”
Several Colts players have been out in various communities around the country trying to do their part in helping the cause.
The recent events have led to Reich contacting his players to hear their voice.
“You try to reach out to understand how your family is doing, to understand how they are feeling. That’s part of for me to have a growth mindset, for me to help understand the issue better, to know what to say and how to act, I think it requires being uncomfortable, making phone calls and asking people how they are feeling,” the third-year head coach said.
Throughout the past few weeks, Reich has met the media on Monday’s to discuss how his team is handling the virtual offseason program.
But this Monday started with a much bigger cause. Eventually, some football topics did arise.
What were some of the football tidbits that Reich discussed?
-On when coaches will return to work at the team facility: “Right now, I’m not thinking the coaches are coming back without the players there. We are in a rhythm and a mode that I don’t think we need to disrupt that. There are other limitations on the number of people that can be in the building, so it has a domino effect…It’s most important the players get back in there and since that can’t happen, I think we’ll keep continuing the mode that we are in.”
Bowen’s Analysis: While there was some chatter last week around the NFL about things picking back up for staff members, and possibly even players, returning to their buildings for work in June, it sounds like the Colts are still a bit away from exploring that path. Clearly, Reich feels his staff has developed a nice routine to handling things virtually. Reich complimented his coordinators for leading unit meetings and the IT department for having film readily available. The in-person interaction during the offseason program has been missed though, especially those precious on-field reps for youngsters and newcomers. Again, do not be surprised if we see teams go the entire spring without any OTA/minicamp work together. That’s why players getting together on their own this summer is vital to build some of that on-field cohesion.
–On if Marlon Mack should have a lead on retaining the starting running back position over Jonathan Taylor: “There’s definitely inherent respect for the starter returning. And that’s the way I see this….I see it as a 1-1 (punch). The way the league has gone and the way role playing has been elevated in our league, it’s made it prominent. We used to say in San Diego that when we had Danny Woodhead. He was not our starter, he was our ‘role playing’ starter. He played such a significant role. He had 80 catches in a year. You look at a guy like Nyehim Hines. We talk about Marlon and Jonathan, but what about Nyheim? He’s such a good third-down back that he’ll play a prominent (role). In some ways, (Hines) is a starter. He’s a role-playing starter.”
Bowen’s Analysis: It’s going to be fun to see how everything plays out at the running back position. For the first time in a while, the Colts have some decisions to make in splitting up the backfield reps. It makes sense to give Mack the early starting nod, and it’s possible he retains that all year long. But Taylor is going to be squarely in the mix to have a key role. You do not draft a running back 41st overall, and one with the resume that Taylor has, and have him relegated to a reserve role throughout his rookie season. And we know the staff really wants to use Hines in the passing game. It’s a nightmare for fantasy owners to figure out, but it’s exactly what Reich wants in having a deep, versatile backfield.
–On the biggest challenge facing Philip Rivers right now: “I think the biggest thing is adapting to our personnel here and some of the small nuances and changes that the offense has evolved in since Nick (Sirianni) and I have been with Philip. Obviously, I was with Philip for 3 years and Nick was with him for 5, so it’s evolved. It continues to evolve. We brought a lot of elements from what we were doing in Philadelphia into the offense, so those are things Philip doesn’t have experience with. But, in many ways, he does because somehow a lot of plays are related. It’s adapting to those new plays and then also getting to know the new personnel, even though we aren’t on the field and he can’t be developing rhythm and timing with the receivers.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Reich added that a major focus right now for Rivers is watching film with his skill guys to learn how they run routes and talk through that with them. One advantage that the Colts do have over many other teams right now is that they have had the same head coach and coordinators going into a third season together. So, they aren’t installing new systems. Yet, the most important position on the team is a guy playing for a new team, for the first time in 16 years. Rivers knows the offense quite well, but the personnel is new. Establishing consistent timing is vital for the Colts to improve their passing game, so this will be something to watch whenever Rivers can throw with his guys in team settings.
On the importance of this season for fourth-year tight end Mo Alie-Cox: “I think it’s a huge year for Mo. We really feel strongly about Mo. I really give Chris and his staff, Chris, in particular, has really been in Mo’s corner from the day we got here, ‘Hey, this is a former basketball player and I really think he’s going to develop into something.’ He was exactly right. Mo is big, he’s strong, he’s tough. Sometimes you might think the basketball player is a finesse guy. Mo is not a finesse guy. He’s a powerful man. He brings an element of what a ‘Y’ tight end brings about strength at the point of attack. For us to run the ball, like we want to run the ball this year, I envision Mo is going to play a big role in that. He’s going to get more playing time than he did last year. He’s continued to develop and get better. The other thing, and you all see it, when Mo catches a crossing route, no one wants to (tackle) him. He’s such a big man, so he has his own way of being effective as a pass receiver. I think this last year, the biggest area of improvement for Mo, in particular, was his route running skills. I think his footwork and his routes developed significantly, so I’m excited for what Mo can do.”
Bowen’s Analysis: For the first month of free agency in 2020, it was looking more and more like Mo Alie-Cox would benefit majorly from the loss of Eric Ebron, and no free agent addition coming into the tight end room. But when Chicago released Trey Burton, the Colts jumped at that opportunity. Clearly, Burton’s arrival won’t totally eliminate the role for Alie-Cox in 2020. Reich is right, this is an important year for Alie-Cox to prove himself in the NFL. In a Reich offense, Alie-Cox, 26, is going to get some chances, more so than other No. 3 tight ends around the league. Alie-Cox’s playing time was hovering around 30-40 percent of the time last year, even when Ebron was healthy, so he’s going to have a noted presence again in 2020.