INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich today spoke to the local media via video conference call, in which he talked about how the team is handling the start of its virtual offseason workout program, how quarterback Philip Rivers has picked up the offense, second-round pick Michael Pittman Jr.'s role in the offense and much more.
You can listen to that session in its entirety above, but here are some top takeaways:
» The Colts players are adjusting well to their virtual offseason workout program: The COVID-19 pandemic has required teams to get creative to find ways to conduct the start of their respective offseason workout programs, so with stay-at-home orders and social distancing still the norm in most states across the country, the Colts have decided to go all-virtual for the time being.
Indy today starts Week 3 of its virtual offseason workout program. Each week has consisted of four days of various team activities; two hours a day, Reich said, are spent in virtual positional meetings, while the other two hours are to be utilized by the players for workouts and to focus on nutritional efforts.
The virtual nature of the offseason program is unprecedented, for sure, but Reich says the team is "getting a ton done" regardless.
"This has been extremely productive," Reich said. "From an installation (standpoint), our coaches are doing a phenomenal job, but we always tell the players these meetings are only going to be as good as they are engaged in the meeting. We try not to make it like lectures. There are install meetings – we are trying our best to be very interactive just like we were in the building. The guys are doing a great job. The coaches are doing a phenomenal job. The players are engaged."
Reich told his players on the very first day of this year’s virtual offseason workout program that the coaching staff was trusting them to do their workouts on their own. The players have been using team-issued heart rate monitors, but Reich said those help more from an analytical standpoint.
The players have also been getting creative with their workouts, utilizing FaceTime to do their reps "together."
"One guy is running at one field and another guy is running in another city and at the start of each rep they go," Reich said. "Then in between reps, a quick word and I think we're just trying to have some fun with it."
» Philip Rivers is picking up right where he left off with Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni: Rivers, who signed a free agent deal in March to become the Colts' new starting quarterback, had a successful multi-year run being coached by both Reich and Sirianni when they were together with the San Diego Chargers.
Reich served as Rivers' quarterbacks coach, and then offensive coordinator, from 2013-2015. Sirianni, meanwhile, was initially an offensive quality control coach with the Chargers in 2013 before being promoted to quarterbacks coach for the 2014-15 seasons, and then serving as the Chargers' wide receivers coach in 2016 and 2017.
From 2013-15, Rivers would have some of the best overall production of his 16-year NFL career, as he ranked, on average, second in the NFL in completion percentage, fifth in passing yards, fifth in touchdown passes, sixth in passer rating, seventh in fewest interceptions and ninth in yards per pass attempt.
In 2013, Rivers threw for 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns; he led the NFL in completion percentage (69.5) and was fifth in yards per pass attempt (8.2) and fourth in passer rating (105.5) and was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year.
Now together again with the Colts, Reich said Rivers has had a seamless re-introduction back into a Reich/Sirianni-led offense, with help from quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady.
"Philip, just because of our existing relationship with Nick and I – it's literally like riding a bike," Reich said. "We're laughing and joking about how it's just like we've not been together the whole time. A very quick re-acclimation to that. We know what Philip likes."
Reich also said the two sides have been able to add successful elements from their last few seasons apart.
"Philip kind of knows how we think, but at the same time we've brought some new things. He's brought some new things. That's been fun," Reich said. "It's been exciting to hear some of the things that he's learned over the last few years and he's been equally as eager to hear kind of what we've learned over the last few years as well."
» The Colts are already envisioning a specific role with which they feel rookie wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. will be successful: Indy used its second-round (34th-overall) selection in this year's NFL Draft to grab Pittman Jr. out of USC, where he was one of the top wide receivers in college football in 2019, finishing with 101 receptions for 1,275 yards (12.6 yards per reception) and 11 touchdowns in 13 starts.
At 6-foot-4, 223 pounds, Pittman Jr. brings much-needed size and playmaking ability to the Colts' receiving corps, and while Reich believes he'll be moved all around the field, he sees Pittman Jr. excelling as the team's "X" receiver.
"The 'X' receiver is – for a lack of a better way to say it – the guy that you want to put when you're in a trips right and he is singled into the boundary and you can throw 1-on-1 to him," Reich said. "There are a handful or routes that you want to throw to him."
Reich said those were the thoughts going through his head when the team was in the process of building its draft board and envisioning what a guy like Pittman Jr. could do for the offense.
"We do envision Michael as that 'X' receiver that every now and then you can just say, 'Hey, they are playing a lot of man-coverage. Let's put him into the boundary and throw on-on-one and expect him to win,'" Reich said.
» Reich sees Trey Burton being a dynamic playmaker at the tight end position: The Colts knew they'd have big shoes to fill offensively this offseason after letting tight end Eric Ebron test the free agent market; Ebron eventually signed a deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Ebron earned his first-career Pro Bowl selection in 2018 as one of the top playmaking tight ends in the league, hauling in 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air; while he couldn't find the same consistency in 2019, Ebron remained a focal point of opposing defenses until he was sidelined for the year with ankle issues.
The Colts knew they'd be returning two solid all-around tight ends in Jack Doyle, a two-time Pro Bowler, and Mo Alie-Cox, while others — including Ian Bunting, Xavier Grimble and Matt Lengel — would get a shot at earning a spot on the final 53-man roster. Indy also signed Mississippi State tight end Farrod Green as an undrafted college free agent.
But Reich wanted to find someone he knew was immediately capable of filling that Ebron-type role in the offense, and once Burton was released by the Chicago Bears on April 17, it didn't take long for the Colts to strike, signing him to a free agent deal five days later.
Reich knows Burton's abilities personally. He was a key playmaker for Reich's offense with the Eagles when the latter was Philly's offensive coordinator in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. In 2016, Burton was targeted with a career-high 60 passes, and the following year he hauled in five touchdown receptions to help lead the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl title.
In 2018, after signing a free agent deal with the Bears, Burton put up a career year, logging 54 receptions for 569 yards and six touchdowns. While Burton had an injury-plagued 2019 campaign — he underwent hip surgery in December and is hoping to be back to full strength by training camp — Reich is "incredibly excited" to get the 6-foot-2, 238-pound playmaker back in his offense.
"Trey is a big-time playmaking tight end," Reich said. "This guy is an incredible route runner, really smart and instinctive player. I think he fits a big need in our offense."
And while Burton will step into an Ebron-esque role, Reich said Burton will "play it different than Ebron would play it."
"It'll look different, we'll scheme different things up for Trey than we did for Ebron – some of them will be different," Reich added. "But that role gets highlighted schematically in certain ways and I expect Trey, assuming he's going to stay heathy, will have a very productive year."
» Still no update on Adam Vinatieri: The legendary Colts kicker went on injured reserve last December and subsequently underwent knee surgery. The team brought in then-rookie Chase McLaughlin to handle kicking duties the final four games of the season, and he excelled, earning a spot on the current offseason roster; the Colts also just signed reigning Lou Groza Award winner Rodrigo Blankenship as an undrafted rookie free agent.
While it seems as if McLaughlin and Blankenship are set to compete for the team's kicking job in 2020, the Colts also are yet to rule out the possibility of letting Vinatieri add his name to that list, setting up the potential of the league's all-time leader in points scored and made field goals returning for a 25th NFL season.
But as of now, with Vinatieri still going through the recovery and rehab process, it's too early yet for him to decide one way or another about his future plans, particularly as they pertain to the Colts, Reich said today.
"No update," Reich said when asked if he had talked with Vinatieri recently. "Just letting the rehab process finish its course before any final decision has been made. Then get together with Adam once he gets to that point."