WESTFIELD – As Michael Pittman Jr. was organizing a business trip to Miami aimed at impacting the upcoming season, his position coach kept track of the evolving details until it became too much.
Reggie Wayne hit the mute button on a text chain linking the Indianapolis Colts’ wide receivers.
“I kept hearing all the times and dates,’’ he said. “At some point I had to mute it because vacation is vacation.
“I didn’t want no part of it.’’
Wayne was simply staying in character. As a young receiver for the Colts in the 2000s – the 30th overall pick in the 2001 draft who would fashion a Hall of Fame-worthy career – he quickly determined when it was time to work and when it was time to get away from it all.
“I always said, ‘I’ll see you in minicamp,’’’ Wayne said with a smile.
Rather than spend a few days or a week of his offseason bonding in pitch-and-catch sessions at some location, Wayne did things his way. He worked out at the University of Miami, as did former teammate Edgerrin James.
“Edge would work out at 2 in the morning and I would work out at 5:30,’’ Wayne said. “If we could catch each other at the same time we would, but other than that it was vacation.
“It was off time. The rules were different then. Now, it’s country club.’’
Gradually, the NFL and players union have reduced time teams are allowed to have control of players during the offseason. The Colts’ offseason program began April 10, ended June 15 and involved a three-day rookie minicamp and 13 days of on-field work for everyone.
Pittman apparently didn’t believe that was enough time for the components of the passing game – two new quarterbacks, including rookie Anthony Richardson; wideouts, including third-round draft pick Josh Downs; and tight ends – to get their act together.
That ever-changing group has converged at some location for the past several offseasons.
“It wasn’t spontaneous,’’ Pittman said. “We always planned to do it. I just didn’t know when, where we were going to go.’’
The final destination: Miami and the U.
It was a three-day getaway, and roughly 95% of the skill players attended. That included the three QBs: veteran Gardner Minshew II; Richardson, the No. 4 overall pick in the draft; and returnee Sam Ehlinger.
Richardson showed up wearing gear from the University of Florida, Miami’s interstate rival.
“I didn’t hear that,’’ Wayne said, “and that would be totally disrespectful. I’m surprised they allowed him on campus wearing that.’’
Not certain if he was serious, but the gathering of Colts certainly was.
“I thought it went well,’’ Pittman said. “It was my first time helping set something like that up, so I was very pleased with how it went. We did meetings, we did walkthroughs and we did routes on air.
“We were pretty much working from 8:30 till 12, and after that just hung out. We fished, went to the beach and went to dinner a couple of times.’’
Everyone paid his own way, which was a sign of each’s commitment.
“In the past,’’ Pittman smiled, “we had some higher network quarterbacks who would pay for that. The fact that everybody came out on their own dollar shows that everybody was serious about it.’’
On-field work, whether it’s with Wayne prodding the wideouts at the team headquarters or during training camp at Grand Park Sports Campus, is invaluable.
“I’m glad they did it,’’ Wayne said. “The more reps, the better. There’s not a (player) that can say he’s had enough. He needs every single rep that’s possible and every single look.
“I’m just the receivers coach here, but every game rep they can possibly get also. It all ties together.’’
There’s also no overstating the importance of the skill players spending time together. Pittman offered input during meetings, but the quarterbacks inherently took control. The latter was important for Richardson, who’s still gaining the trust of his teammates.
“It’s just learning how to be a leader,’’ he said. “Not necessarily just going out there and repping plays, but gaining their trust, gaining their respect and being a leader.
“I feel like going down there, it definitely tested that for me. I’m looking forward to more.’’
First-year coach Shane Steichen wasn’t involved with the throwing sessions, but clearly understood their short-term and long-term value.
It speaks volumes, he insisted, “when you’ve got guys that take it upon themselves to say, ‘Hey, let’s do this. We don’t need coaches around to go get better’.
“When you do that, it builds camaraderie and obviously it gets guys on the same page.’’
Pittman isn’t a novice at building chemistry with new quarterbacks. Since being selected with the 34th overall pick in the 2020 draft, he’s seen the Colts use seven different QBs: Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, Ehlinger, Carson Wentz, Jacob Eason, Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett.
Either Richardson or Minshew will be Pittman’s fourth starting quarterback in as many seasons.
Tight end Mo Alie-Cox, signed as an undrafted rookie in April 2017, can add Andrew Luck and Brian Hoyer to his quarterback colleagues.
“The NFL is constant change,’’ said Pittman, who’s in the final years of his rookie contract. “You never know what can happen. You don’t want to be expecting something and you have a 360 and something else happens.’’
Pittman’s first impression of Richardson?
“Anthony has been great,’’ he said. “He’s a physical specimen just looking at him. When I first saw him, I thought, ‘This dude is a running back, quarterback . . . he could be an elite receiver.
“He looks like he can do it all. His arm strength . . . he’ll just drop back and just flick his wrist and the ball goes 80 yards.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.