INDIANAPOLIS – During his 15-year coaching career, Frank Reich has had shared experiences with players dealing with a sprained this, torn that or dislocated something else.
Maybe it was Keenan Allen’s lacerated kidney in San Diego or Carson Wentz’s torn ACL in Philadelphia or the accumulated physical trauma that convinced Andrew Luck to end his Indianapolis Colts’ career. This season, there have been ruptured Achilles tendons that sent Marlon Mack and Malik Hooker to the injured reserve list, and torn knee ligaments that possibly ended Parris Campbell’s second year with the franchise.
But the last few days and weeks have been different. Cancer and COVID-19 are different.
The most serious shockwave to hit the Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center came Monday when punter Rigoberto Sanchez revealed he had been diagnosed with cancer. He’ll undergo surgery Tuesday to remove the tumor and immediately begin treatment.
“I know that it will not be an easy bump on the road,’’ Sanchez posted on Instagram, “but I know I have my amazing wife supporting me along with family, coaches and friends reaching out.’’
Sanchez was informed of the diagnosis late last week, but insisted on playing in Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans.
“You’ve just gotta know Rigo to know there was no way he was going to let the team down,’’ Reich said Monday on a Zoom conference call. “He’s just a true competitor.
“We just know that’s how he’s going to handle this off the field.’’
Sanchez’s situation follows defensive linemen Denico Autry and DeForest Buckner testing positive for coronavirus and being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Jonathan Taylor also was placed on the COVID-19 list Saturday, but as a “high-risk’’ individual and not because of a positive test.
Monday, Reich was asked about the sprained medial collateral ligament in Anthony Castonzo’s right knee (it likely will keep the veteran left tackle out a few games) and the neck injury that forced Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly to miss the Titans game (he’s got a chance to return against the Texans). He also addressed quadriceps and back injuries to safety Khari Willis and running back Jordan Wilkins’ rib injuries (no update on either’s availability for Sunday).
But again, the cancer and COVID-19 situations reached a different part of Reich.
“It’s different,’’ he said. “It puts things in perspective. We all know everyone’s livelihood is really important to them as far as their job, how you feed your family. Football’s really important to us. It’s the way we make a living.
“But we all know family and health come first.’’
Reich stressed the support that’s been offered by the franchise, beginning at the top with owner Jim Irsay.
“Just the extent that Mr. Irsay and his family and this organization will go to help players when they go through situations,’’ he said.
Sanchez met with Reich last week after learning of his cancer diagnosis, and Reich mentioned it probably was advantageous that Sanchez is an elite athlete.
“When you’re an athlete and you’re constantly challenging your body, you probably feel something’s not right a little sooner,’’ Reich said. “The conversation I had with Rigo was it’s a blessing in disguise that he does what he does for a living where he’s pushing his body all the time to feel something that doesn’t feel right and to get that checked out.
“So to catch it extra early, I think, is very good.’’
Reich added that from talking with the team’s medical staff, everyone is “optimistic, very optimistic’’ regarding Sanchez’ prognosis. In all likelihood, he’ll be placed on the league’s non-football injury list (NFI) and miss the remainder of the season.
In other matters:
Once Sanchez’ cancer diagnosis was known, general manager Chris Ballard began considering his options. He always has a list of available players at each position, just in case.
A free agent punter will be added.
“That process already is underway,’’ Reich said.
That involves the new punter going through the league’s COVID-19 protocol before being added to the active roster. That player also might replace Sanchez as the holder for rookie placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship.
Taylor should return to the active roster later this week and regain his feature back status against the Texans. The rookie leads the Colts with 518 yards and four touchdowns on 135 attempts. A high-risk individual who tests negative only has to remain on the COVID-19 list for five days.
The status of Autry and Buckner for Houston isn’t as clear, although each would be eligible for this weekend under the NFL’s protocol.
Autry was placed on the COVID-19 list Nov. 20 and has missed two games and Buckner added to the list last Wednesday. A player who’s asymptomatic must remain on the COVID-19 list 10 days while a player displaying symptoms is out at least 14 days.
The Colts do not specific whether a player is asymptomatic, but Reich mentioned the team is “optimistic with the guys that have COVID. They’re making good progress. Nobody has had any setbacks.
“If it all works out, great.’’
The magnetic resonance imaging test revealed Castonzo sprained the MCL in his right knee. The injury most likely will force him to miss a few games.
“How many weeks or the exact timetable on it, we’ve got to wait and see how this week falls out,’’ Reich said. “It’s really too early to tell.’’
Le’Raven Clark replaced Castonzo in the second quarter on Sunday and after struggling early, “settled down and played solid the rest of the game,’’ according to Reich.
Reich added the team has discussed its options at left tackle, and those include moving right tackle Braden Smith to left tackle.
“We talk about every scenario,’’ he said. “Chris and I were talking early this morning. I talk about it with the offensive staff. Every option gets discussed. That’s just us doing our due diligence.’’
Reich is “fairly optimistic’’ Kelly will return to the lineup against the Texans. A neck injury kept him out of the loss to Tennessee.
“Ryan’s making good progress,’’ Reich said, “but we’ll have to see how this week goes.’’
Against Tennessee, rookie Danny Pinter made his first career start.
“Very happy with the way Danny played,’’ Reich said.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.