INDIANAPOLIS — A little more than one year ago, when Frank Reich stood in front of his entire Indianapolis Colts team for the very first time, he announced what would be expected of his players — his franchise — moving forward: trust, toughness and team.
These aren't just clichés, mind you; this is what Reich and his coaching staff truly believes will set their team apart. And, after a 1-5 start to the 2018 season, the Colts caught fire using these "Three T's" as their rallying cry, winning nine of 10 regular season games down the stretch to earn the franchise's first playoff berth in four seasons, and then going on the road to defeat the Houston Texans in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs before bowing out to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round.
So last week, when the Colts players returned once again for the start of the offseason workout program, Reich stood at the lectern in the team's meeting room and decided he wasn't going to re-invent the wheel.
And, fortunately, Colts Productions' cameras were in the room to document this first team meeting of the 2019 season.
In what he's calling his annual foundation "inspection" meeting, Reich kicked off his second season as the Colts' head coach echoing many of the same sentiments as his first team meeting last year. But the "Three T's" sure seem to mean a lot more this time around, especially after seeing them successfully put into action last year.
"And everybody knows — everybody knows — this about a foundation, that the higher you plan on going, the deeper the foundation needs to be, right? It just makes sense," Reich told his team. "And so what'd we do? We laid down that foundation of three T's. We talked about trust, we talked about toughness and we talked about team."
Reich last week referenced an interview he heard with Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, in which he was asked, 'What's your motivation?"
"He says — he didn't hesitate — 'I don't wanna let my team down; I want my teammates to know that they can trust me,'" Reich said.
That trust, Reich said, needs to be the strongest part of the team foundation, and it's cultivated in the locker room.
"At the end of the day, let me ask this question: is there anything more foundational than trust?" Reich asks. "No."
According to Reich, trust is built when the team decides what its culture is all about, and holds others to that standard.
"The truth is what you say the truth is; what we, together, as a team have said, 'This is going to be our culture.' It's not the only way to do things, but this is our way to do things," Reich said. "That, you wear the Horseshoe, 'Hey, this is how we operate in here. These are the standards that we hold ourselves to.' It's the locker room."
The second T, toughness, is something the Colts were able to show the entire league last year. It started with training camp, where hard, padded practices were the norm — not the exception. And that attitude translated onto the game field, where Indy became known as a physical, grinding team, an approach that paid off in spades down the stretch as the team went from 1-5 to 10-6 by the end of the regular season.
"I'm not sure if we could've emphasized this toughness thing any more than we did last year — I think you might agree with that — and talk about this one percent better every day, this 1-0 mentality, that we had," Reich said. "It's a robust view of toughness; it's getting better every day under a wide range of conditions, without failure. That's the attitude that we wanna have when we think about our toughness."
At the end of the day, Reich said, toughness is an attitude.
"It's gotta come from the guys in these seats," Reich told his players and coaches. "You've gotta want it. You've gotta want it. You've gotta wanna push the limits yourself. And you've gotta believe that if you do push the limits you can do things that you never thought or imagined — I believe that. I believe that about every one of you guys here; I believe that about this team; I believe that about myself. That's why we push ourselves."
"We ran out of gas."
That's how Reich described the Colts' loss to the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs that ended their season two wins shy of a Super Bowl title.
The grind of an NFL season is taxing, no doubt about it. But, as Reich reminded his players last week, the human body can do amazing things when you might least expect it. And when an entire team buys into reaching down and pulling from those reserves down the stretch, then magical things can happen.
"I know you've pushed it hard to get in these seats, but I promise you there's more in your body," Reich said. "And I don't care if it's Adam (Vinatieri) or it's our youngest guy on the team: there's more in our body, right? There's more in our body if we will keep pushing the limits.
"And if we do that as a team, then what happens is that capacity as a team increases, right? 'Cause what happened last year? What happened last year? We did that, we got in this right mindset, we got in this beastmode trust, and we got in this beastmode toughness, and we were unstoppable, we were a team of destiny, we win 10 of 11, right? We were the hottest team in the NFL — everyone knew it; no one wanted to play us. And then what happened? We ran out of gas. We ran out of gas. We faced a team that had more capacity than us."
The good news, though, is Reich is fully confident his team can be even better in 2019.
That work is starting now.
"Can I physically get better? Yes, I can. That's Phase 1, that's Phase 2. Can we understand the scheme better? Can I increase my capacity to understand that? Yes, in every aspect we can push it, push our limits, get better and better. That's what can distinguish us as a team," Reich said.
"Our why is stronger than a trophy. I'm just tellin' you right now. I've been on teams where that's the why. That's not a good enough why. That's not a good enough why, right? The ring — those are nice. There's a few rings in this (room). Those are nice; the rings are nice. That's not a strong enough why. That's not what gets you to the top. That's not what gets you to the top," he continued. "What gets you to the top, what can distinguish us, what can separate us is just our belief in each other and our belief in the process, that all we're gonna do is focus on gettin' better every day."
A candid look at the Colts defense working out during Phase I of their offseason workouts.