INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich on Wednesday talked to the media at the NFL Scouting Combine. What were the top takeaways from his session?
1. Reich is excited to have a “normal” offseason: Last year at this time, the Colts entered the Combine with a head coach that had been hired just a couple weeks prior, and with a coaching staff with key positions still being filled. For a team with a personnel staff that relies upon the input of the coaches when filling out its big board for the draft, this scenario wasn’t exactly ideal. This time around, however? “I can’t even tell you how much more normal it is," Reich said. “There was nothing normal, it didn’t seem like there was anything normal about it last year. This year feels, it just feels very different, it feels very good.”
2. Reich didn’t originally intend on trying to entice Howard Mudd out of retirement, but…: Mudd, the legendary offensive line coach, most notably with the legendary Colts teams of the Peyton Manning Era, had officially retired from the NFL back in 2012, although he had been dabbling in some consulting and side coaching jobs since that time. But a few weeks back, with his offensive line coach position officially open, Reich called Mudd to get his thoughts on a prime candidate, Mudd’s good friend Chris Strausser. More than an hour later, Reich and Mudd were still on the phone. “We ended up on the phone for an hour, an hour and a half talking football,” Reich recalled. “I got off the phone and I was blown away I was like, ‘He hasn’t changed. He is still as smart as he has ever been.’” That sent Reich to general manager Chris Ballard’s office. “I was like, ‘I think we need to do something here. I think we need to get Howard back here.’” Now officially un-retired, Mudd is back in Indianapolis as the Colts’ senior offensive assistant coach, working hand-in-hand with Strausser and one of the more talented offensive line groups in the NFL.
3. Improving at gaining yards after the catch remains a priority for the Indy offense: The Colts in 2018 were about middle of the road in the league when it came to yards after the catch rankings — they were 15th in the NFL — but in an offense usually predicated on quickly getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand, Reich wants more moving forward, especially when he calls screen plays. “I felt like in our screen play, not necessarily in our running back screens, which I thought we were poor at, but in our wide receiver screens, I know we got a lot better as the year went on. And so we got some good yards after the catch there. But I do think that we can continue to improve that as well.” T.Y. Hilton remained one of the best in the league in this category in 2018 — his 5.9 yards-after-catch-per-reception average ranked tied for third in the NFL — but the bottom line is Indy wants its other pass catchers to do more in this area.
4. The coaches take the lead in prospect interviews at the Combine: While the Colts’ scouting staff has been grinding hard the last few months to find the right fits for their draft board, Ballard turns over the prospect interviews at the Combine to the coaching staff so they can really start to dig in on a players’ football acumen. Keep in mind: teams only get up to 60 total prospect interviews at the Combine, and they can’t last more than 15 minutes each, so the time the teams do get with the players is extremely valuable. “We’ll do everything from testing a guy on recall to watching that guy’s film to other ways of creatively figuring out how much this guy knows about football,” Reich said. “Fifteen minutes obviously isn’t enough, but Chris and his staff have already done so much research, so this 15 minutes are really focused towards football. I mean, just how fast can a guy think? How far can he go in his thinking?”
5. The Colts want “dogs” as their top two wide receivers: “Hey, I can put him over there one-on-one and it’s 3rd and 5, and I know we’ve gotta throw a slant route or a stop route, and he’s gotta win a very high percentage of the time.” That’s what Reich considers a “dog” at the wide receiver position, and he believes the team already has that in T.Y. Hilton. But he’d like to see another dog behind Hilton doing similar dog-like things. “If you’re a dog owner, you always know that two dogs are better than one,” Reich said, with a laugh. “We have other players that did a really good job for us that we can count on in very specific situations and played winning football for us, but obviously when you’ve got two guys that are in the category of a T.Y. Hilton, they can’t just roll the coverage to one guy.” The Colts can keep working on what they already have to develop that, but can also try to add in free agency and in the draft to find that other “dog.”