INDIANAPOLIS – Let’s get one thing straight.
The Indianapolis Colts have an old dog, but they’re not interested in teaching him new tricks. At least not entirely.
Obviously the old dog is Philip Rivers. At 38, he’s heading into his 17th season and in line to be the NFL’s third-oldest starting quarterback in 2020. His senior peers: Tom Brady (42) and Drew Brees (40).
Chris Ballard and Frank Reich determined the best way to upgrade at QB1 was to align themselves with someone who has started 224 consecutive games and ranks 6th in NFL history with 59,271 yards and 397 touchdowns. The cost: a one-year, $25 million contract.
But Rivers isn’t a Charger anymore. He’s a Colt. And any relocation requires some level of adjustment.
“To be a great teammate, to win, to be the best he can be, he’s had to buy into some things that we do here nutritionally and workout-wise that he’s never had to experience before,’’ Ballard said. “It’s just different for him, but he bought into it.’’
There have been discussions between Rivers and Kirsten Greguirch, the team’s nutritionalist. There have been meetings with Richard Howell, the head of strength and conditioning. Rusty Jones, director of sports performance, undoubtedly has weighed in.
“We all have the approach of, ‘Philip knows what he’s doing,’’’ Reich said. “He’s been doing this for a long time. He knows how he works.
“But Philip agrees and we agree that he can get better just because it’s year 17 and he’s 38 years old. There are ways he can physically get better. So he’s committed to doing that.’’
Like with every player on the team, Rivers’ new regimen is tailored specifically for him.
The objective is clear.
“To be the best version of himself when we line up against Jacksonville hopefully week 1,’’ Reich said. “It’s a really good situation.’’
Whatever adjustments have been made to Rivers’ approach are important, but so is this: the Colts aren’t giving their new QB1 a complete makeover.
In the end, Reich wants – expects – Philip Rivers to be Philip Rivers.
“There is a sense of every great player that I have ever been around at some level has a degree of stubbornness to them,’’ he said. “Philip has done things a certain way. He knows they work. When he and I were together before, we talked a lot about . . . small, incremental changes.
“I don’t like to see older vets all of a sudden do some drastically new things. Many times that backfires.’’
Again, the Colts aren’t demanding Philip Rivers 2.0.
Coordinator Nick Sirianni spent five seasons with Rivers in San Diego/Los Angeles. They kept in contact after Sirianni moved to Indy after the 2017 season, but have only recently been able to rekindle their working relationship face-to-face.
It didn’t take long for that comfort level they once shared to kick in.
“Just excitement and familiarity,’’ Sirianni said of his first Indy meeting with Rivers.
That was evident during the offseason Zoom meetings. As Sirianni would talk coverages and certain plays with his quarterbacks, there was an innate connection with Rivers.
“We’ve had these conversations before,’’ he said.
It was clear from the outset Rivers wasn’t any different than what Sirianni remembered from their Chargers days.
“One thing that is great about Philip is his consistency, so I don’t see a lot of changes, right?’’ he said. “He’s been a very consistent player for 16 years of his career, so I think that carries over in a lot of things that he does.
“I still see the passion for the game, the same teammate he was the last time I was around him. As far as anything that’s changed with Philip, I don’t see it. He’s still the same consistent 16-year vet, (8-time) Pro Bowler . . . all that.’’
Still, there will be an adjustment period, which has been delayed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that cancelled the on-field offseason workout program. Rivers worked with some of his receivers in June, and has been throwing at the Farm Bureau Football Center this week. Things will amp up as training camp unfolds.
Even though he’s acutely familiar with the offense of Reich and Sirianni, there are subtle changes that Sirianni declined to share. Rivers has studied those nuances on video, but the lack of OTA work kept him from doing hands-on learning.
“He’s just got to get the reps,’’ Sirianni said. “It’s not a lot, but it’s maybe a handful of things that we either do more here than we did when we were in San Diego together or that’s just brand new.
“Knowing Philip, he’s not a guy that takes a long time to adapt or learn. That’s one thing that makes him great. He sees it so well.’’
Also, there’s the matter of gaining a comfortable level with new teammates. He’s no longer throwing to Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Now, it’s T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, Zach Pascal, Jack Doyle and so many others.
“He’s got to learn these guys,’’ Sirianni said. “He’s got to continue to build reps.’’
One aspect that should ease the process is the manner with which the Colts run routes “is very similar’’ to how the Chargers ran the same route.
“There’s not a lot of guesswork,’’ Sirianni said. “The way we break down on an ‘in’ route is the way they broke down on an ‘in’ route with the Chargers.
“That will help, but there is no doubt he’s just got to get the reps with Pittman, he’s got to get the reps with Pascal, T.Y., Parris, etc. That’s what this next month-plus is for, to get those reps.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.