INDIANAPOLIS — Football is a game of adjustments. The best teams roll with the punches and find a way to win when adversity strikes.
The COVID-19 health emergency has offered all sorts of adversity to those across the world. From those stricken with the coronavirus itself — and those on the front lines providing essential services and goods — to those following orders to stay at home and ride this thing out, changes have been abundant.
For the Indianapolis Colts, the challenge has been figuring out a way to adjust to those changes as quickly as possible during a critical juncture in the offseason.
The National Football League has already announced that the NFL Draft will go on as planned from April 23-25, although its exact format — from how it will be televised to the way teams will function — isn't yet known. Also possibly on the horizon is the start of the offseason workout program; the Colts were originally supposed to welcome players back to the building on April 20, but now the team is waiting to hear how and when it can conduct meetings with players via video conferencing, if possible.
So just how are the Colts' front office, scouting and coaching staffs handling the shift of working from their homes during this unprecedented point in history? NBC Sports' Peter King today provided a glimpse at just that in his Weekly "Football Morning In America" piece, as general manager Chris Ballard, head coach Frank Reich, offensive quality control coach Parks Frazier and college scouting coordinator Anthony Coughlin all peeled back the curtain with a look at their new normal.
You can, and definitely should, read the entire piece by clicking here. For our purposes, we'll provide a brief synopsis of what each Colts staffer's setup is like:
Ballard is working from the basement of his home, where, like the rest of the Colts' staffers, he has a makeshift office setup that includes his normal work computer as well as a computer that allows him to pull up film on the prospects being considered for the team's draft board.
As King notes, that board was already preliminarily built during the team's marathon draft meetings following the Senior Bowl in February; this year the Colts' scouting staff locked itself in the draft room for 17 days straight and poured over the film and its notes to really narrow down the list of possible prospects.
Now working from home, video conferencing has been the norm for scouting meetings as the board continues to be tweaked with the draft now less than three weeks away. King writes:
Last Thursday, from 1-2:30 p.m., 19 scouts and coaches met via Zoom to discuss defensive tackles, with Ballard and assistant GM Ed Dodds hosting. Each scout and relevant coach sent in comments on the players to Ballard and Dodds, and the debating began. It's helped that, on Zoom, Ballard can pull up a few plays that everyone can see. "We had some pretty intense discussions about two guys," Ballard said Friday. "We dug into the character of a couple guys and moved them down. It wasn't all that hard, compared to being in the same room. We ended up moving seven guys either up or down in that meeting."
Reich is working from his home office, where he has everything he needs right in front of him: a big-screen TV, his work computer, a computer to watch film, his tablet, his clicker — and a Dwight Freeney bobblehead for good measure.
The third-year Colts head coach really is balancing both draft preparation as well as heading up efforts for the start of the offseason workout program — whenever, and however, that will go.
Working from home has provided its challenges, for sure, but as Reich tells King, just because it's a different setup doesn't necessarily mean it's for the worst:
Reich always loved the occasional 10-minute session with a coach this time of year, the office pop-in to talk about a play for the offensive playbook or what he thinks of a particular draft prospect. "You miss a lot of the impromptu stuff," he said. But he said he reminds his coaches that virtual coaching and scouting still means coaching and scouting. "I do remind them every so often, 'Hey, just because we're home, we're not on vacation. We're not working half days, we're working full days. Structure your day. Plan your day.' "Reich also tells them to lock in with their families during the day if they can—just be sure to have the work done by the end of the day.
Frazier, who earlier this offseason was promoted to offensive quality control coach after serving as Reich's assistant, is currently hunkered down at his parents' home in Cornith, Miss., about seven hours south of Indy.
Frazier handles all sorts of assignments on a given day, but his primary job of late has been getting the offensive playbook digitally ready to go for the players once (and if) the offseason workout program gets underway by that April 20 start date.
Frazier shared with King how he's been working with the coaching staff to get them up to speed on the various technological systems available to them so that they don't miss a beat in their day-to-day duties:
Colts IT people set up Zoom accounts for the coaches and scouts, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and Frazier got the system down, and Frazier taught the staff how to share screens on the platform, so everyone could see video of a play, or see a play diagrammed, as if they were in the same room together. Because each coach has an iPad with full video capabilities through the XOS Thundercloud system (common to NFL teams), and those plays could be shared via streamed video, the tools weren't so different from the offensive staff meeting room. The staff just had to learn them.
One of the unique aspects of this new work-from-home NFL lifestyle is the alternative methods with which teams are meeting with college prospects.
With social distancing measures put in place, teams can't bring prospects into their facilities for visits, so instead the league has allowed for "virtual visits," limiting each prospect to three hour-long "visits" per week per player. Coughlin's major role of late has been coordinating those efforts and making sure everything runs smoothly. King writes:
It used to be that a prospect, on a pre-draft visit to the Colts complex, would see several people in the building during the day. Now that prospect would have three Zoom or FaceTime contacts with the Colts: one with director of player development Brian Decker (the former Green Beret and Ballard's character judge in the organization); one with the position coach; and one with the pertinent coordinator. Max per session: one hour.