INDIANAPOLIS – The news came early and spread quickly, and stretched across the Atlantic Ocean.
First, the NFL announced Wednesday morning the Indianapolis Colts had a week 10 date with the New England Patriots in the upcoming season: Nov. 12 in Frankfurt, Germany, as part of the league’s International Series.
Then, Bernhard Raimann grabbed his cell phone and alerted his family in Austria.
The team’s second-year left tackle admitted he “was pumped’’ at the news.
“I actually texted them this morning before coming into the facility,’’ Raimann said Wednesday afternoon. “They’re all excited.’’
Which is totally understandable.
The Colts’ first trip to Germany – they met Jacksonville in London in 2016 – isn’t exactly a homecoming weekend for Raimann, but it’s darned close. His hometown of Steinbrunn, Austria, is roughly 390 miles to the southwest of Frankfurt. That means either a short flight for family members or an 8-hour drive.
More to the point and the reason for Raimann’s elation, it’s a rare opportunity for family and friends to watch him play in person.
Michael Eibensteiner made the trip to Indy last season to watch his son play – a total of four special-teams snaps, as it turned out – against the Washington Commanders.
Because of the distance involved, that’s the only time his family has been on hand for a game in seven years, by Raimann’s calculation. Not as an exchange student at Delton Kellogg (Mich.) High School. And not during his four years at Central Michigan.
“Last time they saw me play I was playing for the Vienna Vikings,’’ he said with a smile. “That was some time ago.’’
It was the Austrian national championship game for his age group, and Raimann had yet to develop into a 315-pound tackle. He mentioned he’s added roughly 15 pounds to his rookie playing weight.
He was a wideout for the Vikings.
“Caught a touchdown pass,’’ he said. “Thought I’d throw that in there.’’
To this point, the Raimann clan has monitored his progress by watching games online or recording them, and watching at a decent hour. There’s a six-hour time difference.
Now, they’re busy determining the best method to descend on Frankfurt in mid-November. They’ll come in droves, either by car or plane.
“Yeah, it probably depends on how big of a group they’re getting together,’’ Raimann said. “It might be cheaper to drive with like five people per car.
“I don’t know if grandma still likes flying or if she likes to drive. I guess it depends on that.’’
Regardless the size of the personal fan club, it’ll provide an opportunity to gauge the progress of a key component on the Colts’ offensive line.
“I think the trajectory is heading in the right direction with him,’’ said first-year offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. “As a young player in this league, struggles as a rookie, they’re not uncommon.
“He’s got some talent. He’s got a great mentality around the building. He’s working to get better. . . . the arrow’s moving (in) the right direction.’’
It’s fair to describe Raimann’s rookie season as uneven.
“It was kind of ups and downs,’’ he admitted.
Veteran Matt Pryor started the first four games at left tackle before a short-week lineup shift moved him to right tackle and Braden Smith to right guard.
That led to Raimann making his first start in week 5 at Denver on a Thursday primetime stage. He conceded it was a numbing welcome-to-the-NFL experience.
On a short week and dealing with an injury to his left ankle, Raimann was penalized three times for holding – one was declined – and once for a false start, all in the first 28 minutes, as the Colts’ offensive line struggled from start to finish against the Broncos’ fierce pass rush.
“You’re not exactly on snap (count) or you take the wrong first step and you’re going to get beat,’’ he said. “That was definitely a wake-up moment.’’
But Raimann kept at it, kept getting better and showed marked improvement while starting the final nine games at an unforgiving position.
During his offseason self-evaluation, does he pay more attention to the good plays, or the bad ones?
“Obviously, you want to learn from both,’’ he said. “The negatives are always going to stick in your head a little more. I’ve always been a perfectionist. You can have 70 good snaps and then you have one or two bad ones in there, and you’re going to think about those the most the next day, especially when you don’t win as a team.
“You’ve got to learn it’s a week-to-week league and you gotta learn from those mistakes and improve them.’’
As the team prepares for its overseas game, first-year coach Shane Steichen can draw on his experience as quarterbacks coach with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018 when they met the Tennessee Titans in London.
And he can lean on defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who was part of four London games as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2013-16, including a 30-27 win over the Colts in ’16. Bradley also was on that ’18 Chargers’ staff.
Along with the usual extensive preparations – making certain everyone involved has a valid passport; second-year safety Rodney Thomas doesn’t have one – there’s determining how best to handle the travel to lessen jet lag. Some teams arrive at the overseas location earlier than others.
“It depends,’’ Bradley said. “I don’t know exactly our time schedule. Are we leaving Sunday after the (prior) game? Are we leaving Thursday? I don’t know those things, but I think that you get used to it and you plan.
“You can get your preparation in. It’s not an issue that way. You’ve got to be more efficient at times in some areas, but it’s not like a Thursday night game.’’
Does he have a preference on arrival time? Early in the week? Later?
“I think there are advantages to both,’’ he said, making it clear he was offering a personal opinion. “I thought Thursday was pretty good just because you get over there, you get acclimated, and you play on Sunday.
“It seemed for a trip to London through my experience that it worked out pretty good as far as players feeling fresh.”
Once the game arrives, Bradley insisted, the players will embrace the experience.
“It’s an unbelievable environment,’’ he said. “I mean, you’re sitting there and it’s just a different feel to it all and it’s very energizing I would say.
“The emotion, the enthusiasm, and to play, it’s really a cool experience for the players and coaches. It’s unbelievable. I’m guessing Germany, it’s the same way. You hear about it. It’s very, very similar to that type of environment.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.