INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Eric Ebron was having none of it.
Question: Should we expect any changes in the offense?
What do we need to change?
Question: Well, you’re going from Andrew Luck to Jacoby Brissett. Shouldn’t there be some type of change?
For what? What we gotta change? He’s still throwing it to us. It just changed the person who’s throwing it. We’re still here. Ain’t no reason to change anything because at the end of the day, one person doesn’t make a team. You know what I’m sayin’?
Ebron almost always brings his “A” game to the locker room. He’s got that infectious smile, that magnetic personality. He’s a walking soundbite.
On this occasion, though, Ebron was doing his level best to talk everyone off the ledge. Yes, the Indianapolis Colts are about to experience life without Andrew Luck when they open the season Sunday against the Chargers in Los Angeles. This won’t be a replay of 2017 when Luck was out with his shoulder issues. At the time it was considered a blip on the Luck’s ascending career arc.
This is life without Andrew Luck. Barring a change of heart, he’s not coming back.
With Luck, the Colts’ offense always was one of the NFL’s most diverse and vibrant. In 2018, it ranked No. 7 in total yards and No. 5 in scoring. In ’16, it was No. 10 and No. 8, respectively.
The rankings in ’17: No. 31 in yards, No. 30 in points. There were reasons behind the miserable numbers, and most could be traced to an inadequate supporting cast. And let’s not forget the Colts went through nine different starting offensive line combinations, which contributed to Brissett absorbing a league-high 52 sacks.
But from the second Luck walked out the door, the Colts forged on.
“Look,” Chris Ballard said, defiance in his voice, “this is not 2017.”
Not even close from a personnel standpoint.
Again, Ebron explains.
“We still have the offensive line,” he said. “We still have the greatest tight end group, I think.
“We’ll be all right.”
Offered Brissett: “The offense is what it is and I’m running it now.”
But will the casual fan notice a difference?
“I guess they’ll have to see and then they’ll be able to tell the change,” Brissett said with a smile.
As difficult as it might be for those on the outside to believe, Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni are taking a business-as-usual approach with their offense.
“We obviously think we have a very good system, but part of the strength of our system is we empower players and it starts with the quarterback,” Reich said. “He has to have complete mastery of the offense.
“We can’t have a quarterback that can’t do that. I mean, we are going to play to the strengths, but that’s just part of our system. We are going to draft and sign guys that have the qualities that can do those things.”
That was Luck. Now, it’s Brissett.
He has handled virtually all of the reps with the starting unit since mid-April, more than 1,200 by Reich’s estimation. He and center Ryan Kelly are developing the necessary synergy in pre-snap protection calls. He understands the rationale behind Reich’s play calling, and has input in the game plan.
Luck had the option of changing plays at the line of scrimmage when presented with a defensive look he hadn’t anticipated. So will Brissett.
One of the QB’s biggest responsibilities during a game is avoiding negative plays.
“One of the things we teach our guys is, ‘Hey, what is this good against? What is this not good against?’” Sirianni said. “What are you coming to the line of scrimmage and saying, ‘Wow, I really like this play. I am going to make this work.’ When are you coming up and saying, ‘Oh, that is a problem?’ He’s got the same access as Andrew to get out of a bad play.”
Reich, Sirianni and Brissett have spent countless hours together. At some point, they determined which plays fit Brissett, and which to discard.
“Anybody who is playing quarterback for you,” Sirianni said, “they are going to have their favorites. So we stay within the scheme and we do with what fits our players the best.
“If Jacoby likes something that Andrew didn’t, you might see a little bit more of that. That’s how it changes just so we can adapt to the needs and the likes of our players.”
Adapt, not make wholesale changes.
It can’t be stressed enough that Brissett has been part of Reich’s offense since it was installed in April 2018. To be determined, though, is whether that offense will remain as efficient and productive with Brissett, not Luck, under center.
In Luck’s 94 career games, the Colts averaged 25.2 points per game. In the 26 without him, the output plunged to 17.2. In ’17, the offense managed just 263 points (16.4 ppg).
Reich, Sirianni, Brissett and certainly Ebron are confident the offense won’t miss a beat post-Luck in large part because of the vastly upgraded supporting the cast. The only holdovers from the starting lineup in the 46-9 loss to the Los Angeles Ram: T.Y. Hilton, Anthony Castonzo and Jack Doyle.
As Ebron pointed out, the ’19 offense is loaded.
The offensive line was one of the NFL’s best last season and returns intact: Castonzo, Kelly, Quenton Nelson, Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith. Castonzo, Nelson and Kelly are first-round picks while Smith is a second-rounder.
The skill positions include Hilton, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, and a pair of Pro Bowl tight ends in Ebron and Doyle. Devin Funchess, Deon Cain, rookie Parris Campbell, Chester Rogers and Zach Pascal provide intriguing depth at wideout. Marlon Mack gave every indication last season he has the wherewithal to be a 1,000-yard back.
Sirianni went through the ’17 video that featured Brissett’s 15 starts. However, he prefers to lean on what he’s seen from Brissett on the practice field the past five months.
“I’m just so confident that you practice how you play,” he said. “We wanted all of ’17, but we’ve seen exactly what we’ve gotten from him in practice the last two years.
“I’m such a believe in that that I think we know (what to expect).”
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