PHOENIX — Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich talked to reporters from more than an hour on Tuesday at the NFL Owners Meetings in Phoenix. What were the top takeaways from his session with the media?
» Improvement in the run game is the top focus for the Colts' offense in 2019: While Reich is thrilled to have plenty of key contributors back from an offense that was among the league's best in 2018, he believes the unit can reach new heights if it is more consistent running the ball. The Colts last season ranked 20th in the NFL with their 107.4 rushing yards per game, and Reich said at the very least he wants Indy to be in the top-seven in that category in 2019. "I just have a really strong conviction of that’s what it takes," Reich said. "In this day of high scoring, crazy pass offenses, and that’s all true, but if you look at the numbers, you gotta be good at running the football. There’s exceptions to that, but the percentages are with you... if you’re a top-10 rushing team, you gotta much better (chance to win). Because your play-action game is gonna be much better, I know you guys have heard me say that time and time again. I really, really believe that."
» Devin Funchess was a free agent priority from the start: Reich said as soon as general manager Chris Ballard presented him with a list of potential free agents the Colts could be pursuing, he immediately circled Funchess' name as someone that he just had to have wearing the Horseshoe. "I’m so excited about Devin," Reich said. "I mean, when I watch his tape, what I see is a big man who is really athletic. I like to talk about having route-running skill; this combination of having good feet, good instincts and good body control, and then what sometimes we refer to as body quickness." Just 24, Funchess signed a reported one-year deal with the Colts and both sides hope to benefit tremendously from his talents in 2019. "Guys don’t like to be compared to anybody, you know? But I would just say this: body type, talent-wise, (he) reminded me a little bit of Alshon (Jeffery), you know what I mean?" Reich said. "Like, I watch him on tape and there’s some similar qualities as far as footwork, route running, the whole deal. So I think it’s a really good fit."
» The Colts will have to be more creative in Year 2 under Reich: When opposing defenses started to prepare for the Colts last year, they didn't quite have a solid foundation to start from when turning on the tape. Do you watch Reich's offense from his time with the Philadelphia Eagles? What about offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and Reich's tenure with the Chargers? What about all the other coaches on the Colts' staff and their backgrounds? But now, with a full preseason, regular season and two postseason games on tape, Reich doesn't expect to have that same luxury in 2019 and moving forward. "We’re just always trying to stay one step ahead," Reich said. "And having been through the process a couple times now — installing an offense in San Diego, and seeing that roll out, and then in Philadelphia, boom, and seeing how it (started). And even, like, in Year 2 in Philly, how it just got better. I mean, it just got better. The reason it gets better is because the players — you know, our players — do it better, you know what I mean? So whatever familiarity they have with it, we have even more, ‘cause they’ve got 15 or 10 other teams that they’re studying offenses, where it’s just our guys, we come in, they already know our stuff. We can execute better. And every coach will tell you that that’s paramount, right? I mean, that’s paramount. So I think that’s a good thing for us."
» Andrew Luck had a solid first year in Reich's system, but 2019 should see a major step forward: Luck statistically probably had his best-overall season as an NFL quarterback in 2018, completing a career-best 67.3 percent of his passes and turning in a 98.7 quarterback rating. With a full offseason to dedicate to diving even more into the playbook, however, Reich expects "a big difference" moving forward. "I really do think it’s a pretty big difference. Just because, again, the confidence, the conviction. We talk about for a quarterback how important it is to be a fast processor, and so you have these schemes, and now you’re getting to the second and third iterations — you’re getting deeper into it easier and faster. And obviously with his aptitude, it puts us in a good position, and this is the beauty of it, right? It makes everybody else better, too. I mean, it makes everybody else better."
» Reich knows all-too-well how Justin Houston can wreck an opposing offense: Back in 2014, when Reich was offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, he took on the Kansas City Chiefs and pass rusher Justin Houston, who to that point had 18 sacks going into the final game of the year. Four sacks later, Houston finished the season just half a sack shy of the single-season NFL record. Reich is extremely pleased to have that pass-rush ability coming off the edge in his own defense now. "I told him he owes me, he owes me because when he got his 22 sack deal, unfortunately I was the offensive coordinator (in San Diego) on the other team where he got his last four sacks. Last game of the year, he got four in that game. We were chipping him, double-teaming him ... so I’ve been dreaming about having him on my side for a while," Reich said. "I’ve always thought he was a special player."
» Robert Mathis is stepping away from being a full-time coach on the Colts' staff: When Robert Mathis retired as a player after the 2016 season, he pretty much immediately took on a coaching role in Indy helping the team's pass rushers. It eventually turned into essentially an assistant coach position, though in title Mathis was officially a "pass rush consultant." Mathis this offseason has decided to step away from a full-time role on the Colts' coaching staff, but Reich said Mathis' role of "pass rush consultant" will remain. "I think probably the better way to say it is, yeah, (he) just stepped back to just a consulting role. So still kind of helping on pass-rush stuff, but not full-time. Just periodically coming in, helping out. So in spirit still with us, but just not in the same capacity as far as … yeah, he’s not going to be officially a coach. He’s got some other things he’s doing, but still helping out a little bit."