INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich recently sat down for a 1-on-1 with Colts.com's Matt Taylor. What did the third-year head coach have to say about the start of training camp, how the team will handle rookie practice reps without a preseason, his reunion with Philip Rivers and more?
Here is that entire conversation, which you can also listen to above:
How good does it feel to be back? I'm sure there's at least some sense of normalcy where you're back at the facility, talking about football after a long offseason filled with things out of your control.
Reich: "Yeah, Matt, it's been great, just on a personal level with the coaches, us just being able to get together and really meet face to face, and obviously following all the protocol, that's been a lot of fun. And then really with the players, especially the rookies, it's just really an odd offseason in that, can't imagine having a rookie class that you've never had a face-to-face meeting with them. That's a very odd scenario. So really good to meet those guys face to face, start to get to know them. And now with the vets starting to stream in, now we're about to start having some fun."
Has the reality of the situation set in? I know you have to get tested to walk in the building, there are parts of the complex off limits, you have to wear a mask at practice now. Has the new normal for you kicked into gear yet?
Reich: "Yeah, it has because it has to, because there's no avoiding it with, as you said Matt, the testing, of the mask, all that stuff. And the message is just don't let it be a distraction. Here's the rules. Everybody has to play by them. So let's just do our job and focus on football."
Do you think your coaching style or approach to this season will change because of all the protocols in place with a main priority of keeping the players as safe as possible all year?
Reich: "Yes. There's no doubt. And we'll take every precaution we can, but I really don't think we can live in fear. I'm not talking about just from getting the virus, but how we conduct ourselves, put all of the protocols in place, the masks, all the physical distancing stuff. The meeting rooms are set up the way they're set up. We'll adapt and adjust as we go and get new information, and whether there's contact tracing information that we get. So if we find out we're getting close to crossing a line we shouldn't cross, we'll adapt and adjust. But other than that, I think, Matt, it's the same routine as far as schedule, as far as how we meet, when we practice, all that is still normal. And obviously when we get out on the practice field, it's all normal, other than coaches wearing masks. So I really think that players will be able to focus. I think we'll quickly get used to this once we get back out to practicing and it'll all be good."
What have you noticed from the team in terms of their maturity with the circumstances they're facing now? The players, as we know, they own a ton of responsibility when it comes to the success of this season. Do you get the sense your guys are up for the challenges and for the responsibility to make the sacrifices necessary in their personal lives in order to have a football season this year?
Reich: "Yeah, I really do think we have a great group, very mature, and I think one of the ways to measure that, a little bit anyway, is you don't really hear anybody griping or complaining. I'm sure a few people have things under their breath that they're not crazy about, but for the most part, everybody understands and everybody knows that we're all going to have to make sacrifices. And so that's just what you got to do. Part of sacrificing is giving something up to in order to get something even better. And we got to give up a little bit of free time, a little bit of the players have to give up a little bit of the socialization stuff, but that's okay. We've got a big goal and a big focus ahead that's worth giving it up for."
The training camp schedule is dictated to you already by the league, and because of that it's a gradual ramp-up. Do you feel like you can go full bore once the pads come on, or do you still kind of have to play it cautious because of all the time missed in the spring?
Reich: "I don't think we have to play it that cautious. I think football's football. I think our guys are in shape. There is a ramp-up time. As you know, Matt, now that we've got the vets back in, we've got eight days of strength and conditioning with them and walkthroughs. So they're going to be working out hard, running hard, they're already coming in here in shape. We know we've been tracking the work that they've been doing through all the offseason. So we've got eight days of that. Then we're going to have another four days of gradual ramp up practices. So I just think they're going to have plenty of time to get things ramped up. It doesn't mean that there's not going to be things here and there, and guys getting (injured), somebody pulling muscles; it's football. It happens every year on a team. We'll take every precaution we can. We pay attention. We're always checking guys, but I think we're looking forward to just getting to work."
Have you given any thought to how you have to evaluate the team differently in a few weeks when the pads do come on knowing you're not going to have those four preseason games and that film to watch that factors into the equation of who makes this team?
Reich: "Yeah, it's really unfortunate for the young guys that we don't get the preseason games. Those reps are really gold. There's a lot of guys over the years that have really made their mark in this league and making a team by stuff they've done in the fourth quarter of a preseason game or in that fourth preseason game that we just don't have that opportunity this year. So (there's) more emphasis on the practices. Practices are always competitive and everything is evaluated. Every aspect of every day is always evaluated. So I'm confident that we'll find the best guys for the roster and really even some of the guys that don't end up making it, my guess is many of those guys that end up on a roster sometime, somewhere — if not ours — given injuries, given the virus, things that'll happen during the year. So it's going to be part of the message to our guys in camp is, 'Everyone's got to be ready to go.' I know that's the standard message, but this year more so than any."
In a general sense, what kind of mindset do you think the rookies are going to have, knowing they don't have those valuable preseason reps? Does that put any extra pressure on them? What kind of advice can you give them going into a camp that's unlike any you've ever experienced before?
Reich: "Well, I think advice is you've got to be yourself. The message is if you try to press, if you feel the 'pressure' of that, it's usually not going to lead to good things. You're going to end up pressing and trying to do something that 99 percent of the time ends up backfiring when you try to overdo it. So you need to play your game. You need to be yourself. There will be a lot of practice reps that we get over the next few weeks. And there'll be a lot of opportunities for every person to make an impression on this coaching staff and have a chance to make this team. And you just have to trust that."
A few days ago I know you had your first chance to see Philip Rivers face to face since you guys acquired him in the offseason. What was it like actually seeing him in the building and talking to him as a member of the Colts for the first time?
Reich: "It was great. Obviously Philip and I have a close friendship, working together for three years out in San Diego. Obviously this whole spring I've talked to him quite a bit over the phone and on Zoom. So Phillip's a great teammate. He's a great leader and he's a great player. So it's just fun to be able to sit and talk with him about the things, about our team, it's been really fun telling him about the guys on our team and how excited I am to see how he gels and how we all gel together now with this being his new team. It'll be very fun and exciting. Looking forward to it this year."
How hungry do you see this team being at this point in the calendar. It was a bitter was to end 2019 with that final loss to wrap up a 7-9 season, and then you have this completely different kind of offseason that has included a pandemic hitting. How fired up would you say your team is right now to get back on the field and kind of turn the page?
Reich: "I think we're really hungry. Really, really hungry. And I know everybody is. It's the beginning of year. Everybody's 0-0. If you were talking to any other head coach or any player you're going to hear about how hungry they are. But as you said, Matt, last year there were so many good things that happened. I know it was a disappointing … after the 5-2 start, and then finishing 7-9, it was disappointing. But I really do feel like that has left a deeper hunger and anticipation for this season and a deeper confidence and belief that we know we got the right guys and we're just continuing to build. The things that we learned and experienced last year are going to help us win this year."
Go behind the scenes to see the Indianapolis Colts as they gather for their first meeting of training camp.