ORLANDO, Fla. —Don't tell Frank Reich the Indianapolis Colts are rebuilding in 2018.
Sure, there are others in the building — the player personnel staff, in particular — who need to continue focusing on the future and ensuring the franchise is strong moving into 2019 and beyond, but that doesn't mean that Reich, hired last month as the Colts' new head coach, is ho-hum about his team's chances this season.
"Other guys are being paid to see the rebuilding and have the patience. I'm not being paid for that," Reich told reporters Tuesday at the AFC/NFC coaches breakfast from the annual league meetings in Orlando, Fla. "There's not one ounce of me being patient. There's not one ounce of me that thinks we are in a rebuilding project. Every ounce of me feels that we are winning this year."
After finishing 4-12 in 2017, it wouldn't be inaccurate to say general manager Chris Ballard will continue on his mission to infuse the Colts' roster with young talent to set the organization up for long-term success moving forward. But just because a roster is young, it doesn't have to mean that it can't find success in the interim.
With key veterans in place across the roster — including at the all-important quarterback position — Reich is confident that, matched with quality coaching from the new staff, there's no reason why Indianapolis can't make some noise starting in September.
"For the last 20-some years, there has been a team that has gone from last place to first place in their division, and then who knows what happens from there," said Reich, the offensive coordinator last year for the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. " That's the way we are wired. We've got to go. We've got to win this year. We were 4-12 last year. That can turn around with a few breaks, staying healthy, a few more players and we can get it done."
So with that in mind, what else did we take away from Reich's comments on Tuesday? Let's break it down:
• Andrew Luck is back to throwing a football — well, sort of:Reich said at the breakfast that Luck is, indeed, throwing a football once again as part of his rehab work, but a little later in the day clarified that the quarterback has introduced a smaller football into his workouts, and is not yet tossing around an regulation-sized NFL ball.
Nonetheless, Reich said the team is "really encouraged by the steps" made by Luck, who is expected to report to — and participate in — the start of the team's offseason workout program on April 9.
"I think what we'll do is the plan is he'll get in and certainly interact with our doctors and trainers and evaluate how much he can do," Reich said of Luck. "Certainly he's going to participate at some level — that's to be determined. Even if he was full-go, I'm sure there would be some kind of ramp-up mentality. We'll see how it goes when he gets in and gets evaluated."
• Ideally, Reich's offense will feature the ball getting out of the quarterback's hand much quicker:One sure way to protect the quarterback in the NFL is to establish the run, and while the Colts certainly want to do that — Reich said Tuesday he wants a top-10 rushing offense — his unit can also really help itself in protection by getting the ball out of the quarterback's hand much quicker.
The Colts are already expecting to run a more up-tempo and aggressive offense with Reich calling the shots, but getting the ball out quickly means timing is of the essence, as well.
"It starts up front with the offensive line and the running backs on the protection piece of it — I mean, you've got to protect the quarterback," Reich said. " And it is really the whole unit, so that involves scheming to get the ball out quicker, that involves the quarterback making sure he gets the ball out quick. it ensures that the receivers are getting to where they're supposed to get on time. So we really look at protecting the quarterback as an offensive unit, but certainly a lot of that is scheme, and I think that, yeah, that will definitely be part of it."
• Reich has enjoyed watching his new coaching staff work together:
Because of issues out of the Colts' control, the total assembly of Reich's new coaching staff occurred much later in the offseason than one would assume would be ideal.
But Reich said his new coaches are making up for lost time by logging long hours at the Colts' facility, and he thinks it's paying dividends.
"I think our guys have been in there long hours for the time that we've been there and making the most of that opportunity on different levels — like you said, when we're together as a complete staff, as offensive unit, defensive unit, special teams guys working," Reich said. "So that's a cool thing about this business: everybody kind of gets this profession. Guys are wired in a way that, 'Hey, we're used to this. This is kind of the culture and the work environment that we're used to working in and thriving in.' So I think that's happening."
Reich said he looked for three things when finding candidates for his coaching staff in Indy.
"One was wanting guys on the field that could coach the fundamentals and technique. I just think that's foundationally important," Reich said. "Secondly, kind of the innovation part of it was a big part of it; we want to be creative and stay ahead. And then, third, just have the toughness and the team mentality that we're going to be looking for. It's not just a player thing; I think that's got to exude from the coaches as well. So working together in those regards, I think, that's what we were looking for."
• New tight end Eric Ebron can be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses:
It's simply a coincidence in how similar their names are, but Reich found himself comparing his newest tight end's skillset to that of NBA star LeBron James.
Reich said he's looking forward to the opportunity to isolate Ebron on one side of the field and just see how the defense reacts. If they put a linebacker, or even a safety, one-on-one against him, then Ebron has the skillset to blow by them over the top; if the defense puts a corner on Ebron, then he has the size and strength to make catches across the middle.
"You know, offensively it comes in threes: you've got to run, you've got to playaction, and then you've got to screen of the stuff, so you have certain formations and you do all of those things to keep teams off balance," Reich said. "And so when you've got a guy like Ebron, I just think it gives you a lot of options and helps the whole offense."