INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Motivation is where you find it, and Frank Reich found his in the complete lack of respect shown for the team he had inherited.
As the 2018 preseason unfolded and the regular season loomed, the Indianapolis Colts – 4-12 the previous season and a non-playoff team for a third straight year – were NFL afterthoughts. Many outsiders had them ranked No. 32 – that’s dead last – in power rankings.
Reich, heading into his first year as a head coach, used the universal diss to prod his team to unexpected heights. They overcame a 1-5 start, won nine of their last 10 games and earned a wild-card playoff spot.
It was during the post-game euphoria following the playoff-clinching win against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville in the final game of the regular season that Reich pulled out a sheet of paper with 32 imprinted on it.
He waved it. The players erupted.
“Maybe I overplayed the preseason ranking thing a little bit,’’ Reich said Tuesday afternoon, laughing. “It seemed to be the right thing to do at the time.’’
Five months later, he’ll need to come up with new material.
The Colts no longer are considered a bottom-feeder. Not with the return of Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Darius Leonard, Quenton Nelson, the entire starting offensive line and so many others. Not with 21 of 22 starters back. Not with the addition of Justin Houston and Devin Funchess.
Several national outlets consider the Colts not only a team on the rise, but a team on the short list of Super Bowl favorites. The Sporting News has them ranked No. 5. NBC Sports’ Peter King has them ranked No. 3 behind the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots.
The high expectations, Reich conceded, will “be a little bit of the challenge.
“As you know me and you know how we roll around here, we typically don’t make a big deal out of that. Really the challenge this year will be keeping the same approach – the 1-0 approach – getting better every day, not being complacent in any way, not falling into the trap of thinking ‘Well, we’re supposed to be this and that.’
“We did nothing. We have to go prove it every day. That should be our mentality.’’
Nelson was the 6th overall pick in the 2018 draft and a major reason the Colts were able to fashion a quick turnaround. He didn’t miss an offensive snap and was named first-team All-Pro.
He doesn’t anticipate complacency creeping into the Colts’ locker room, or the offensive line room.
“No, no,’’ he said. “We don’t have big egos as an offensive line at all. All of us know we can improve so much individually and as an offensive line with consistency.’’
Luck wasn’t the only player held out of Tuesday’s OTA session. Other players not participating due to injury or continued rehab from offseason surgery included tight ends Jack Doyle (hip) and Eric Ebron (groin), linebacker Darius Leonard (ankle), safety Clayton Geathers, cornerback Chris Milton, wideout Penny Hart, defensive end Jabaal Sheard and defensive tackle Jihad Ward.
“My whole mode and our whole mode is during this session just to be real conservative with guys,’’ Reich said. “The main thing is to get to camp at full strength.’’
T.Y. Hilton, who dealt with a pair of sprains to his right ankle late last season, was a full participant Tuesday.
“He looked good,’’ Reich said. “As far as I know everything is full-speed ahead.’’
Who are these guys?
Adam Vinatieri is heading into his 24th season and 14th with the Colts. At 46, he’s the NFL’s oldest player and just the fourth player in league history to play at that age.
Even he can find it difficult to keep up with the nomadic nature of the NFL, and the Colts.
During Tuesday’s practice, Vinatieri walked over to a member of the team’s PR staff and asked for a roster.
“So, you don’t know the roster?’’ a reporter asked.
Vinatieri was quick with a snappy response.
“Neither do you.’’
He was right.
The 90-play roster includes 19 rookies, including 10 draft picks. There are 31 players in their first year with the Colts. That includes free-agent pickups Justin Houston, Devin Funchess and Spencer Ware, and safety Derrick Kindred, claimed off waivers from Cleveland.
Reich stressed the importance of getting to know the players he’s dealing with.
“It is not just knowing the player walking into the building,’’ he said. “It is understanding who they are, what makes them tick and what they do well. I really think that is what our coaching staff does well.
“This isn’t just about running lines or running patterns. This is about team. “This is about chemistry. There is personal connection. There is something to al of that stuff and so getting to know the player is a lot different than just kind of knowing the guy walking in the door.’’
Shortly after joining the Colts as a free agent, Houston approached linebacker Anthony Walker to see if Walker would be willing to part with his No. 50. That’s the number Houston wore during his 10-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“He asked me for my number,’’ Walker said with a smile.
What did Houston offer for Walker to part with it?
“Not enough,’’ he said. “I’ll leave it at that.’’
Early returns for Campbell
It’s early, but it’s also clear the Colts will explore whether Parris Campbell is an option as a punt returner. The second-round draft pick worked as Chester Rogers’ backup during punt-return drills.
Campbell frequently returned kickoffs at Ohio State, including 30 for 913 yards as a sophomore and junior. He appeared comfortable fielding punts during Tuesday’s drills.
The Colts claimed guard Jake Eldrenkamp off waivers from New England and waived offensive tackle De’Ondre Wesley.
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