Quick note: NFL teams and their personnel are not able to comment on potential trades or free agency moves until the new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET March 17. Keep it tuned to Colts.com and @Colts on Twitter for all the latest team news once those moves do become official.
INDIANAPOLIS — Usually about this time each year, the Indianapolis Colts are joined by the rest of the league at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium to evaluate the best of the best draft-eligible prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine.
But, if we've learned anything in the past year, it's that expecting the "usual," at least for now, just isn't going to be in the cards. As such, the league decided to cancel this year's Combine due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Colts will still be working just as hard to get as much of an edge as they can on scouting this year's NFL Draft talent without the usual pomp and circumstance that the Combine provides, we still heard recently from head coach Frank Reich, who spoke to the media Thursday for the first time since the end of the 2020 season.
You can catch that entire session above, but here are a few key takeaways:
» The move(s) the Colts make at quarterback starting March 17 come with an expectation of continuity at the position: The evolving nature of the quarterback position for the Colts since Reich took over in 2018 has been chronicled many times. In short, the team finally had a healthy Andrew Luck back in 2018, and then came his stunning decision to retire just before the 2019 season. In stepped Jacoby Brissett as the starter for a year. And then, last offseason, the Colts signed veteran quarterback Philip Rivers with the hope he could be a one- or two-year bridge to the eventual long-term answer at the position.
After a successful first season as the Colts' quarterback in 2020, however, Rivers announced his own retirement in January. It was a bittersweet moment for the organization; the Colts thought Rivers still could play at a very high level at 2021 if he wanted to return, but he also gave the team plenty of time to figure out what it wanted to do at the position moving forward.
As of this very moment, the Colts officially have two quarterbacks on their roster who are not set to become free agents come March 17: 2020 fourth-round pick Jacob Eason and Jalen Morton, an undrafted rookie out of Prairie View A&M who was signed to a Reserve/Future contract on Feb. 1. But the team will almost assuredly make a move to bring in a long-term answer at the position, and then let guys like Eason and Morton battle it out for second- and third-string opportunities as they come.
Reich said he feels confident in every player on his roster that takes the field for the Colts, but knows there's also something special about having continuity at certain spots, especially at quarterback — something Indy hasn't had since the start of Reich's tenure with the team.
"I mean obviously, continuity we all understand at whatever our jobs – it's important, and I just think for our whole team," Reich said. "It's interesting. In one respect, you always feel like, 'OK, we are going to play whatever cards we are dealt, whatever hand we're dealt and we are going to play the cards well.' So if we keep having a different starting quarterback every year, you do what you have to do. But obviously, the moves that we make in free agency are going to be designed to have a longer-term answer there. That has always been the goal, to have a longer-term answer at that position that you can build around and grow. As you grow as an offense because the quarterback is so central in the offense going through him, being able to grow year-by-year is an important aspect of that. So that is certainly in our vision and plans for free agency at that position."
Perhaps here soon the Colts will make a move at the quarterback position to draw this kind of reaction out of their head coach:
» Reich has talked to Peyton Manning and others about what he should be looking for in a quarterback: While there are few folks in the NFL more qualified than Reich to talk about quarterback play — just look back at his long professional playing career matched with years of coaching experience — that doesn't mean he's going to ignore input from others who also know what they're talking about at that position.
So when Rivers made his decision to retire in January, that gave Reich an opportunity to reach out to some key folks in his rolodex to get their opinion on which way the team should head at quarterback moving forward.
Should the team make a trade? Should it pursue a free agent? What about the upcoming NFL Draft? Reich has his own feelings on those options and has a vision of what his next starting quarterback will look like, but part of that "puzzle," he says, is getting input from a number of sources.
"It's a puzzle you put together and there are multiple pieces, so when you're doing an evaluation you obviously have a lot of confidence in my own evaluation and I'm going to work really hard at it. I'm putting all those pieces together, but I also like talking to other people and from talking to other – you guys know, I talk to Peyton Manning, I talk to other ex-quarterbacks," Reich said. "Chris (Ballard) and I had a zillion conversations about it. I'll talk to our offense staff and through all those other conversations, you synthesize all that other information to maybe put in two or three last pieces to that puzzle. I think it would be foolish as an evaluator to think you have all the answers and to not want to hear any other perspective. I think it takes confidence and maturity to want to listen to other people, to learn from other people even in the evaluation process. I have enjoyed doing that over the years, talking to other people about every position, especially the quarterback position as well."
» Reich is excited about his coaching staff — with some key returners, but also some newcomers — heading into 2021: The Colts under Reich have enjoyed a great deal of continuity on their coaching staff from year to year, but eventually, if you're successful and have good people around you, other teams are going to come calling for those folks.
As such, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni this offseason was hired as the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and he took a few Colts assistants with him, such as cornerbacks coach Jonathan Gannon, tight ends coach Jason Michael and pass game specialist Kevin Patullo. Other Colts coaching staff moves included the retirement of running backs coach Tom Rathman.
All those departures lead to exciting new opportunities for the Colts and their staff, however. Quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady was elevated to offensive coordinator, and then, on Feb. 9, the team announced the following moves: Joe Hastings as assistant special teams coach, Kevin Mawae as assistant offensive line coach, Scott Milanovich as quarterbacks coach, Scottie Montgomery as running backs coach, James Rowe as cornerbacks coach and Press Taylor as senior offensive assistant. Additionally, Klayton Adams was named tight ends coach, Parks Frazier is now assistant quarterbacks coach, Doug McKenney is applied sports science/conditioning and David Overstreet II is now assistant defensive backs coach.
Add those moves/changes/promotions on top of the returns of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone, and Reich is extremely excited to really dig in with his new staff.
"We had a unique scenario where we had to hire six new coaches. I'm really excited about that opportunity – to hire new coaches. We think that we really got six quality men, six really good football coaches who fit who we are, have a vision for what we want to do, have a vision of how to get players better, have an expertise and the experience to get done what we want to get done as a coaching staff. So, very excited about that," Reich said. "In particular, I would note I'm really excited for Marcus Brady to be our new offensive coordinator. Marcus is more than ready for the job. I have the utmost confidence in him. I knew the day we got Marcus in the building he was ready and I figured it would come to this. I knew Nick would eventually get a head job pretty quickly because of the kind of the coach he is and there was never a doubt in my mind that Marcus would be that next man up and that he would be ready for the job. So I am excited for him and excited to work closely with him in that capacity as our coordinator."
» Other Reich key quotes:
— On where things stand with free-agent-to-be T.Y. Hilton: "It will play itself out, but I'm not going to lie, the discussions we've had – I would just echo what Mr. (Jim) Irsay said and what Chris (Ballard) said in an interview or two. I think we're all hoping and optimistic that there is a way that T.Y. (Hilton) can end his career as a Colt. He's a special player, he means a lot to us as an organization, but we all understand that there is a business side to it that has to be right. It has to be right for T.Y., it has to be right for the Colts. I'm just hopeful that that can play out. T.Y. has been a great player here, he's a leader on this team and I hope the business side of that can get worked out to where he can end his career as a Colt."
— On how important it was to retain Matt Eberflus as defensive coordinator after he got some opportunities to interview for some head coach openings: "Yeah, very important to get Matt (Eberflus) back. Obviously, he was a great candidate to be a head coach. I think the world of Matt as a coach, as a person, as a defensive coordinator – that we can just keep building and have the continuity as you said and just keep building, growing and adapting the system to our players. I've just seen Flus continue to grow and develop in that role as well, really connecting with players, making a conscious effort every week to put our players in the best position possible. I think he is extremely intelligent, very focused in and on a vision for how he sees the defense executing and where we want to be as a defense. I've learned a lot from Flus over these three years as I've sit in there with him, we talk things through and I ask questions. I give two cents here and there, but Flus – I'm really happy to have him back."
— On how much the possibility of playing Quenton Nelson at left tackle in a permanent role has come up in discussions with general manager Chris Ballard: "There has been lots of discussion between Chris (Ballard) and I. I think the discussion with Quenton (Nelson) is – and you guys would expect this – Quenton wants to do whatever is best of the team. He's willing to do whatever is best for the team. What I appreciate about Quenton is that he trusts that Chris and I along with the coaching staff will make what we believe is the best decision. We want to get the best five guys on the field at the best positions for them, and they can grow into those positions. So we are still keeping all options open at this point. We obviously have the draft and free agency coming up. We know we have multiple options, multiple good options but each one of those ends up with the vision of us having a top-five offensive line. We are going to find the best five players to put out there and we're confident. We know those guys have already expressed to us, 'Hey, just put us wherever you want us. We're going to make it work."