INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts’ defense is the one getting the big makeover this year, but there is plenty to follow on the offense as well.
New head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni are implementing their system. Then, there is return of Andrew Luck, several new pieces on the offensive line as well as the additions of Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Ryan Grant and Eric Ebron. Sirianni spoke with the media on Wednesday, and here are the takeaways about how he feels about the offense so far as it wraps up the offseason workout program this week:
— Q: Do you try to encourage Andrew Luck and other guys to work together before meeting up at training camp?
Sirianni: “There’s part of me that says you’ve got to rest your bodies a little bit. You’ve got to come back ready to roll, because we don’t have time to get yourself back into shape. So there’s part of me that says you’ve got to let your body heal a little bit and relax a little bit before the grind of the season that’s coming along. But what I’ve found out with quarterbacks like him and J.B. (Jacoby Brissett) and other quarterbacks that I’ve been around – they don’t need that nudge. They’re going to do it on their own. Yeah, I’ll nudge them if they need it, but my experience with those guys and my experience so far with Jacoby and Andrew is they don’t need it.”
● Now that Luck is publicly throwing footballs, it was natural to wonder if he would be far enough along to throw with his receivers during the break before training camp. While Sirianni mentions it’s important to rest, yet still be in shape come camp, he said guys like Luck and Jacoby Brissett don’t need any nudging from the coaching staff to do the right thing while they are away from the facility. T.Y. Hilton was asked later in the day if he would be meeting up with Luck during the break to throw, and Hilton said no, acknowledging that Luck will have a lot going on otherwise. When asked if he is worried about any rust or having to regain continuity with Luck during camp, Hilton smirked. “Me and him’s good.”
— Q: As a first-time offensive coordinator, what’s it been like to have a quarterback in Andrew Luck, who knows the game so well, in the meeting rooms?
Sirianni: “I think I’ve talked about this before, that it’s just like having another coach. As coaches, we would love to be in the huddle next to the receiver going, ‘Hey, this is what you do here on this one,’ or, ‘Hey, be alert for this, be alert for that.’ I mean, shoot, but we can’t be there, and that’s something that you always say to your players, however we communicate that with them. I know a lot of times it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re not going to be there with you on Sunday!’ But Andrew is going to be. That is huge. That is huge. Again, I just think he can come out and be a successful offensive coordinator tomorrow just because of his football IQ and his football knowledge and his way to lead. So to have that in the huddle with you and obviously in the meeting room, to have that here, just another set of eyes to correct mistakes and get things right. It’s awesome in the meeting room and it doubles even better on the field.”
● Another day, another nod to Luck’s football acumen. This time, it’s Sirianni suggesting Luck could be an offensive coordinator “tomorrow.” A quarterback’s football I.Q. is often on the back burner of a conversation but it is critical in being a high-level signal-caller. You can have a quarterback on the field with loads of physical talent, but being able to lead his teammates and even correct their mistakes while still in the huddle is invaluable. Instead of waiting for the end of the drive on the sideline or even the next day in the film room, Luck’s receivers can gain knowledge in real-time on the field.
— Q: What should fans expect from this offense?
Sirianni: “Obviously Chris (Ballard) and his staff have done a great job of getting players in here. Get the ball in players’ hands that can make plays, and I see a lot of good playmakers on this team with the addition of Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, Ross Travis and that tight end room. T.Y. Hilton has been known throughout this league for the last five or six years now. We’re going to find ways to get them the ball. Obviously there are some different ways that we like to get them the ball. We like to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands a little bit quicker so he can stay upright. Getting the ball out of our hands and into our skill players’ hands, that’s a big mode of attack for us and exploiting mismatches across the board.”
● There have been concerns about the Colts’ offensive line for several years now, but there has been an obvious emphasis to make fixes in the last couple of seasons. Many agree that this current group of linemen should be the most talented that the Colts have had in some time, but until they get on the field and prove it, it’s just hopes and assumptions. However, when you bring in an offensive system that emphasizes rhythm and getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quicker, that helps the offensive line immensely. Between the additional talent added to the offensive line and the offensive scheme, the offensive line has a chance to be one of the pleasant surprises of this team.
— Q: What has been your big takeaway from coaching T.Y. Hilton so far and how do you find the balance of allowing big plays to develop while trying to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quicker?
Sirianni: “As you emphasize the quicker throws, the deeper ones come. If you look at Frank (Reich) and I’s past together, our teams have been high in completion percentage, but they’ve also been high in plus-20-yard gains, plus-16 yard gains. So those plays still come. They happen in different ways. Being around T.Y., obviously as a former receivers coach, he’s somebody that – you always look at the end of the year, who led the NFL here? Okay, well, T.Y. Hilton is up there again. Let me watch all his catches. Obviously you come away from watching all his catches with a, ‘Wow, this guy is good,’ at afar. What really is great, and I think that separates players, is T.Y. is tough, and he is hungry to learn and he’s obsessed with getting better. And that’s (a) pretty common trait amongst the good players in this league. I guess I assumed he had it because he’s always at the top of the stat sheet, but being around him, he does have it. He has that toughness. You’re never going to be 100 percent after that first week. Your body is going to be dinged and he’s tough and he’s attention to detail (oriented) and he wants to get better because he’s been pretty darn good. He continues to want to excel and get better. With what we talk about, he’s obsessed with getting better, obsessed with finishing, obsessed with his craft.”
— Q: Does. T.Y. Hilton’s resilience and attitude of not taking reps off stick out in practice, too?
Sirianni: “Heck yeah, and it comes across to the other guys that are trying to learn to be pros. We’re not going to have to want ways to get T.Y. the ball. We want to get T.Y. the ball because T.Y. is a baller. But it makes us want to feed him even more and what it really does is it helps the Deon Cain’s and it helps the Nyheim Hines’ and it helps all the young guys just see how it’s supposed to be done. That’s just such an invaluable tool to have, somebody like him. He may not be (the best) vocally all the time, but it’s day in, day out, what he does with his body, what he does in practice. That’s contagious and it’s nice to have that on this team.”
● When Hilton was a young receiver, he had Reggie Wayne to look up to as an example. After that was Andre Johnson. Hilton has now been the elder statesman of the receiver group for a few years, and his drive and work ethic are very important for younger players to see. Hilton isn’t the type to post everything he does on social media but it doesn’t mean he isn’t out there during his free time perfecting his craft. Each offseason, Hilton is often one of, if not the, primary offensive player talked about as someone who is turning heads and impressing in the offseason. For your seven-year, perennial Pro-Bowl receiver to be that guy is an excellent example for those around him. As Sirianni mentioned, Hilton is obsessed with getting better.
— Q: What has impressed you about rookies Deon Cain and Nyheim Hines?
Sirianni: “They have talent. Like I said, Chris (Ballard) and his staff did a great job of getting guys in here that have a lot of talent. Speaking of Deon, he’s built like you want a wide receiver to be built, he runs like you want a wide receiver to run. I think sometimes in wide receivers we focus so much on speed, speed, speed, speed and what’s impressive about him is that he can really get out of breaks. To me, that’s what separates really good receivers in this league. Yeah, they’ve got to be fast, but when those guys are fast and then they can separate at the top of the route and create big throws, he’s that to me. He can separate at the top. Combined with those other two things I said, really make him a person that we think that can develop in this league. As far as Nyheim, he’s just hard to understand defensively, in my mind, how you’re going to play him. He kind of reminds me a little bit of a Dexter McCluster type. I was with him in Kansas City. Teams didn’t know what he was. Is he playing running back this week? Is he playing wide receiver this week? What is he? How do I defend him? And now all of a sudden, you’re on the offensive and they’re on the defensive which is the way it’s supposed to be. That’s what’s so intriguing about him and obviously his talent, his speed, his quickness. He’s a really smart football player. Sometimes I think it’s hard to move these guys around, especially because they’re swimming in a new system so quick, but he hasn’t missed a beat.”
● When thinking about Cain and what he can be, you should almost completely throw out the fact that he was a sixth-round pick because it doesn’t make sense — at least in terms of his production at the highest levels of the college game, as well as his simple attributes at the position. He does have the potential to be a successful, complete receiver by showing in college that he can move the chains as well as stretch defenses. The coaching staff obviously feels he has what it takes. And what else can be said about Hines before we’ve even seen him take the field? There is just so much that can be done with him as a running back, receiver and return specialist. As Sirianni mentioned, having him as well as the speed from other players like Hilton and Ebron should keep defenses on their heels at all times.