INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni recently joined Colts.com’s Matt Taylor on the Colts Official Podcast for a one-on-one interview. What were Sirianni’s thoughts on the offense’s new weapons, the wide receiver depth, Andrew Luck heading into Year 2 in the system and much more?
How do you feel about the work that the offense is getting in this time of year in OTAs?
Sirianni: “I really feel good about everything that we've accomplished so far this spring. You know, Coach (Frank) Reich sets the stage by saying, "We're getting better, a little bit better every day; one percent better every day." And I believe that the guys really have bought into that and we're just trying to stay that course on offense on our side of the ball. And so I feel really good about the knowledge that (we've gained). The offseason is for, really, if you're a brand new player, to learn the offense and the techniques that we're asking them to do. And then if you're a player that's been here with us in the past, it's just refamiliarizing yourself with the offense and the techniques. So I believe we've been doing that, and I believe we've been doing that through the spring so far.”
So with that in mind, systematically from a playbook standpoint, how much further ahead of the game would you say you are as a whole now compared to this time last year where it’s new to everybody?
Sirianni: “Yeah — a lot. A lot further ahead. We always say as an offensive group, we want to make the offense available for you to learn and as fast as we can so we can really focus on fundamentals and techniques. So we devised this offense and the system of how we call things in a certain way to allow people to maximize their learning potential and be able to go out there and focus on fundamentals. But now that they've already been through this for a year, this is just a review for them. So again, we know that we win games with fundamentals and techniques that we've really been able to focus even more so this offseason on, 'Hey, yeah, you guys know the words here and you know what the part of this system is. Hey, let's get to work on your footwork or your get-off,' or whatever it may be as far as the fundamentals go. So I feel like we're well above well above that and getting them to do what we want them to (do), how we want them to do it.”
You’ve added some new guys like Parris Campbell and Devin Funchess to the offense. Are you pleased with how quickly they’ve been able to pick things up from an installation standpoint?
Sirianni: “Yeah, sure. Yeah. And you know what? I think that's a tribute to the way those two guys learn, but also the coaches that are teaching them — Coach (Kevin) Patullo teaching them the system and getting them up to speed. And then also the guys on the team that have been here before. I know they're having sessions when they're over in the hotel and those guys getting them caught up to speed. So again, it's a group process. It starts with the player — Devin and Parris themselves learning it on their own — but then they just have so many different resources there for them, particularly here in Year 2.”
I know you won’t be giving anything away, but do you have ideas in mind for Campbell and Funchess about how they can come in and add new layers to the offense?
Sirianni: “Yeah, absolutely. I think that you get guys and they remind you of other guys that you've had in the system before and you can totally visualize, 'Hey, we can use them this way or that way.' And it makes it a lot easier to use them when they're talented like these two guys are.”
What’s most exciting about Campbell? What kinds of things does he add to the offense?
Sirianni: “You know, I think when you get the type of speed that Parris has, that's just something that you can't replicate when you're a defensive coordinator. They're not going to be able to throw anybody out there and say, 'Hey, run really fast.' That's just ... not everybody can do it. So the defense is gonna to see a different type of speed every Sunday with him out there with the addition of Parris to the other guys that we have on the offense.”
From your standpoint as the offensive coordinator, how difficult will it be to sift through all the talent you have at wide receiver? It’s a deep position with, I think, 13 guys that can play, a lot of them with NFL experience.
Sirianni: “Yeah. And that's a tribute to Chris Ballard and his staff of how deep that position has come in such a short amount of time. So we're very appreciative of that from Chris and his staff. And that's a great problem to have and that's usually not the problem for many organizations in their first couple years, but it does; it feels like we've made so much progress at that position in just a short amount of time. It's just a great problem to have because competition's going to bring out the best in everybody. Everybody's going to improve just because of the competition. So I think eventually it will play itself out and it always does through the OTAs, through the training camp, through the preseason games, through the practices against the Browns. That's all gonna sort itself out, and I think the guys that are gonna make this team are really gonna have come up to the challenge of competing and win their spot. And it's really going to be a well-earned spot for the five, six, seven guys that make this team.”
There were lots of questions from the outside looking in at this time last year about Andrew Luck, so how nice is it to have him knowing that he’s solely focused on just getting better and is getting a huge head start within this offense?
Sirianni: “Yeah, it's a huge advantage to know that you have one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL on your side every week. I think it gives everybody a belief on the entire team that we can win any game that we step (out) on the field. Obviously it's a team game and everybody contributes to that, but quarterback we all know is a different position and when you got one of the best, it just breeds confidence, and Andrew definitely does that for our entire organization.”
Sticking with Luck, how much of a coach on the field is he during the game?
Sirianni: “Oh yeah. He has a great offensive mind. It's not just during the game; it's at all times. It's more visible obviously during the games because you can see him talking to myself, you can see him talking to Frank, you can see him talking to the receivers, the offensive line. That's all visual on a Sunday. But that's what we see every day. We see that in the meeting room of, 'Hey ...' explaining something just to make sure it hits. And he's just like another really good coach out there, except he's playing, too. So it's a huge advantage for us to have a guy like Andrew with his football knowledge to be around every day. It's almost like when they get tired of listening to me it's just an easy, 'Alright, well if you don't do it this way, he's the one throwing you the ball and he doesn't want you to do it this way either,’ and he'll let everybody know about it. But it's such a great advantage that we have with him.”
Are there ever times where you’re on the field instructing guys that might not immediately get it or don’t interpret it the way you’re describing it, but then Luck comes in and says whatever he needs to say to get on the same page with a guy?
Sirianni: “Yeah, I think that he definitely is able to do that. I kinda think, like, maybe it's my tone at some times. Like, 'Yeah, you're just yelling at me.' And then Andrew is able to ... we're able to play off each other pretty well.”
You need that, though.
Sirianni: “No question. So yeah, he definitely brings what he's seen on the field. I'm obviously off the field and it's definitely ... everybody learns differently. Everybody has a different way of understanding things and the more different types of voices you have that are able to get that message across, the better.”
On gamedays, you’re on the sideline. Describe the communication between yourself and Frank Reich, because he’s calling the plays, but what’s the feedback you’re giving him throughout the course of a drive?
Sirianni: “You know, it's just constant communication. Frank's got such a good feel of how to call the game. I'm really just telling him the things I'm seeing as far as what the defense (is doing); maybe some tendencies. And then every once in awhile from those tendencies, I'm just saying, 'Hey, what about this?' And based off of the information I'm giving him as far as tendency goes of the defense, he's got a really good feel. He'll tell me, 'Have a call ready for the next time we're in this situation.' He's constantly having me think through things like that. But again, like I said, Frank has such a good feel. I'm really just talking through tendencies with him and things like that. And we've been doing it for a long time together. When he was the offensive coordinator and I was his quarterback coach, our head coach that time with the Chargers, he wasn't involved in calling the game. So it's almost the exact same dynamic we had. So we've had a lot of practice at it.”
It’s cool how that works out.
Sirianni: “Yeah it is. And it's just obviously a little different 'cause Frank's now on the defensive headset too when the defense is up. And I'll just catch him up, because he's the head coach — and that's the slight difference between what we had in the Chargers and here — because he's the head coach, he's listening to the defense and what's going on the defense. I just might catch them up with what Andrew had to say on the sideline from that last series or what we talked about as a coaching staff, just catching him up to speed: 'Hey, next time we run this play, we have to do this type of blocking scheme.’ Stuff like that. So it is a slightly different dynamic, but we have a lot of practice together with that communication on Sundays.”
Are you impressed with how Reich delegates his time and how he’s able to be omnipresent without actually being everywhere all at the same time?
Sirianni: “Yeah, he's really good. He's been able to connect to so many guys really. And that's just a testament to the type of leader he is. He's able to connect to all these guys and he's in every single offensive meeting and he's in every quarterback meeting, but you would think he'd been at every receiver meeting and every tight end meeting.”
And on the defense, too.
Sirianni: “And all the defense — exactly. And all the defense. So it obviously is a very tough job that he handles very well just because he's such a good leader and a very smart football mind.”
Was T.Y. Hilton better than you thought coming in? I mean, when you got this job, obviously you knew Hilton was a great receiver because you saw the stats and the highlights, but did he exceed your expectations?
Sirianni: “Gosh, I remember coming up here in 2016 (with the Chargers) and T.Y. putting on a show. I remember thinking Jason Verrett for the Chargers was one of the best corners I've ever seen and T.Y. made them look foolish. … So I had high expectations.”
And at the end of last season he’s playing with a low and a high ankle sprain, and he’s still leading the NFL in receiving yards the last six weeks of the season.
Sirianni: “When a guy is as successful as T.Y. has been, nothing surprises me there. I mean, when you get a guy that's been as successful as he's been for that long and has led the NFL in receiving before, I knew there was going to be something that I might not have known that was going to be like, ‘Oh!’ But it didn't surprise me. T.Y. playing through those injuries — again, like I said, he's had a long career of a lot of success — and I guess I didn't doubt him on anything, and he really proved that to me last year that he's gonna fight through things. He's ultra-talented, ultra-aware and (has) great instincts, great hands. I mean there's just so many things. And you're not going to see the awareness and the instincts and the toughness from afar. But I definitely got to see that last year. And we are truly lucky to have that because that's contagious. Him going out there and playing through things and not only playing through things but playing through them very well. … For him to do that, I mean it's contagious. Then you see guys like Chester Rogers playing through things and you see our offensive line playing through things because a guy that's that successful, it's just contagious when they can do things like that. And he definitely showed that to us last year.”
Going to the tight end position, to be able to have Jack Doyle back healthy next season as playing in just six games in 2018 and Eric Ebron, with those two guys together on the field, what are the possibilities? How can Ebron’s role change once Doyle is back in the lineup, and how does Doyle highlight the things that Ebron does well?
“You know, those two guys have an interesting relationship. They really value each other, they really like each other. It's great to see them on the field together. I just remember a couple of different times Eric scored or vice versa Jack scored, how happy they were for each other. So that's a great thing. That's just a good sign of a good team. And those two guys are great teammates to each other. Even though they compete for the same catches, they compete for the same playing time, there is no doubt in my mind that Jack Doyle helped make Eric Ebron a better player last year and vice versa. So that's an awesome thing. As far as their roles going (forward), I think that we had a really good mix when Jack was in there. They were both still getting their touches and getting their plays and that's a good thing. When you're able to (spread) it out, that means fresh players. Eric was fresh, Jack was fresh and they were still being very productive at the same time. So really looking forward to that. And then I'll also, the things that you can do when you have two tight ends in the game, there's different packages you can do obviously to keep the defense off guard.”
There were even times last year you had three tight ends on the field.
Sirianni: “No question. Yeah, it’s such an advantage. … So our tight end room is ultra talented and it's being able to do similar things that you're doing from 11 personnel, from 12 personnel and 13 personnel. And it just looks different to the defense when you're able to do that. But when you have the same talent, like when you're not missing a beat when a receiver steps off the field and Eric (Ebron) comes on, that's a great advantage that we have.”
I know Reich this offseason has talked about offensively wanting to have a top-five rushing team. You’ve got the potential there with this offensive line and this group of running backs. What are your thoughts on the running game and where it can go next season?
Sirianni: “Yeah, I think we started off a little slow in the run game, and I think you saw in a couple of games against really good defenses a massive amount of rushing yards. I think we were over 200 like a couple games in a row. So I think that was just a picture of what we strive to be and what we want to accomplish. Obviously you're not gonna rush for 200 yards every single game. That's a lot of yards, but that's what we want to be. We saw how dominant we can be as far as an offense goes when you rush for that many yards. So that's definitely a goal. It sets up everything that we want to do in our offense. There's a misconception of, ‘Hey if you're gonna run it, you're not gonna pass it.’ Well that's not exactly it. When we run the ball that well, our playaction game explodes and you get better chunk pass plays, you get T.Y. (Hilton) having more yards per catch because all the linebackers are sucking up and all the defensive line are sucking up there and we're hitting behind them. So we would definitely want to be in the top five. We know we have the capabilities of doing that with, like you said, our offensive line and then the ability that we have in the backfield, the depth that we have in the backfield. Those guys have really caught our eyes this spring. Everybody. Coach (Tom) Rathman's done a great job. Marlon (Mack)’s looked really good this offseason. He just looks ... it's the same thing he talked about with Andrew (Luck). Marlon wasn't healthy last offseason; he's healthy this offseason and we're really seeing his strides. He's not trying to learn the offense; he knows the offense. So we're just seeing his quickness and his speed and his fundamentals just continue to grow. And that's an exciting thing. And that's really all the backs. Nyheim (Hines) and Jordan (Wilkins) and Spencer (Ware) and Jonathan (Williams), all of them are really improving.”
Just how in-depth are your protection plans offensively? How thorough are those meetings? You led the NFL in fewest sacks allowed.
Sirianni: “And I think a lot of that was just all the guys being on the same page of just understanding what was coming. Andrew (Luck) and Ryan Kelly getting everybody on the same page of what was coming and setting the table, I guess to say, and then everyone going off of that. And it really starts with Marcus Brady, our quarterback coach, really going through every single game that the teams played and going through multiple years of pulling out all the blitzes and having a plan ready, and Marcus does a great job of really just diving deep into that and really grinding on that and presenting that information to Frank and I and our offensive line coaches and then going from there. And it is. It's a truly group effort in that meeting. Really led by Marcus and Frank and then also Andrew and Ryan Kelly. But then everyone plays a role in it, from the backs and Coach (Tom) Rathman obviously, he's got a big role in that too to help Coach Brady. But it's just a true group effort and it's a great sign of a team. And everybody works together to accomplish what we accomplished last year. It is a sweet thing. I know it's sweet for us and it's sweet for Andrew, not only getting sacked 18 times, but he plays a big part of that too because we teach it to quarterbacks when you can get the ball out quick, when you can read the defense fast and throw on rhythm to receiver who's getting open that you can beat the pressure. So again, it goes to everybody. It goes from the backs, and even though the receivers aren't in that meeting, them winning and getting open.”
The receivers are definitely part of it.
Sirianni: “That’s a big part of it. That’s a big part of it. So, again, a truly group effort amongst the coaches and the players to really put ourselves in that situation.”