INDIANAPOLIS — You often hear a team should play like it practices — and that's something Frank Reich and his staff have obviously taken to heart.
Afforded an bonus veteran minicamp this week by virtue of having a first-year head coach, the Indianapolis Colts have been in "go-go-go" mode in their very first practice opportunities of 2018 — and their first under Reich — which has given the players a clear understanding of what's expected out of them when the real thing gets started in the fall.
"Tempo" has certainly been the word of the week for both Reich and his players.
"Yeah, it's a big part of it. Real important. Every aspect of it – in and out of the huddle, tempo as far as how we finish, how we finish on offense, how we finish on defense, special teams, every phase of it," Reich told reporters on Wednesday. " We want to play fast. We want to practice fast. We want to think fast. We want to react fast. We want to move on from a mistake fast. We want to move on from success fast. We want to play smart and fast. So tempo is a big part of it."
Usually at this point of the offseason, a team is wrapping up the first phase of its offseason workout program — which consists solely of playbook installation and strength and conditioning work — and is getting ready for Phase 2, in which teams are allowed to break out the footballs and conduct individual drills, but still can't conduct 7-on-7s, 11-on-11s, or even 1-on-1s.
Accordingly, Phase II usually allows a coaching staff to really focus in on the finer parts of its players' fundamentals — how a certain route should be executed, footwork for offensive linemen, evading blocks for pass rushers, etc.
But because this week's bonus minicamp has Phase 3 rules — that means teams can conduct offense-vs.-defense practices with 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s, provided there is no actual contact — Reich said he's enjoyed just letting his players go out and play — and play fast — and then they'll worry about the techniques later.
"For these three days, we've got a defense over there. We're running plays against each other, which is great," Reich said. "It gives us a good look at things at full speed. Where normally when you go into Phase II, you can't have a defense against you, so the advantage of the extra minicamp is we get to see it against our defense full speed. Those tapes are good to teach off of."
Veteran tight end Jack Doyle, who enters his sixth NFL season, all with the Colts, in 2018, said he caught on to the differences in a Reich-orchestrated practice immediately.
"We had great tempo I thought for being the first practice," Doyle said. "We haven't even done Phase II and done any of that stuff so it was kind of weird for everybody. But it went really smoothly and rolled into next period, next play very quickly. It was fun."
And by "tempo," Doyle doesn't mean the Colts are rushing things out there. It's just a concerted effort to always be hustling, whether you're in the middle of a drill or getting a drink of water.
"It's just time that doesn't need to be standing around," Doyle said. "You roll into things smoother and I think that's where tempo comes from. It's going to get better.
"It was fun to just get a feel for how they coach, how they want practice to be and (I was) excited to get back out there today."
And while Reich will have an obvious focus on the offensive side of the ball, he said the defense, which has made the conversion to the 4-3, is going to be all about tempo, too. The defensive front is tasked with a much simpler task — just go get the ball — but, when a play is made beyond the line of scrimmage, every player is expected to sprint to the ballcarrier.
The secondary, meanwhile, will be utilizing more of a zone approach, allowing the corners and safeties more opportunities to keep their eyes on the quarterback, run around and make plays on the ball.
"I think what was unique was just the tempo – was just how fast everything was moving for the guys," cornerback Pierre Desir said when asked about his impression of this week's practice with the new staff. "Guys were flying around, especially the front seven. I think being a young group we can do that. We've got a lot of fresh legs out there that can run to the ball and I think this defense is definitely catered to our youth. It's definitely going to play in our hand during the season"
The Colts wrap up their third and final day of this week's minicamp practices today, and start Phase II of their offseason workout program, which lasts three weeks, on Monday.
2018 Voluntary Vet Mini-Camp 4/25