Frank Reich brings level of empathy as Colts must cut roster to 53

Indianapolis Colts

Frank Reich the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts watches the action against the Carolina Panthers at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 22, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS – So often in life, it’s about which side of the decision-making table you’re on.

Frank Reich has sat on both sides.

By 4 p.m. Saturday, he and general manager Chris Ballard must pare the Indianapolis Colts roster to 53. An important part of the process is meeting with each player and discussing the rationale in letting him go.

“It’s very difficult,’’ Reich said. “Guys have poured their heart and soul into what we’re doing trying to get ready to play a football season. I appreciate the fact that guys are pros and they understand that this is just part of the business, but it doesn’t make it any easier for Chris and I to have to call a guy in and say, ‘You’re not making the roster.’’’

The message is delivered that being cut Saturday isn’t the end of anyone’s journey. Many of the players the Colts released will return as part of the 16-player practice squad. Some might be claimed by other teams.

Remember Jack Doyle? In 2013, the Cathedral H.S. product was waived by the Tennessee Titans on the final cut. His hometown Colts claimed him and he’s turned despair into an eight-year career, two Pro Bowl appearances and two free-agent contracts worth more than $40 million.

“Certainly you have encouraging remarks,’’ Reich said. “What I’ve learned through the years is they have to be really sincere, though. You’re not just throwing out the cursory, ‘Great job.’

“You individualize the remarks to every person to the extent that you can because it does matter. Every relationship matters. We talk a lot about the process, but we talk equally as much about the people.’’

From mid-April when the virtual offseason work began to Saturday’s Decision Day, relationships are formed and hardened.

“These are good men, good football players,’’ Reich said. “Many of these guys, if they are not back here, they are still going to be playing in this league.’’

This remains the most difficult part of Reich’s responsibilities. Further complicating it is he’s overseeing a roster that, top to bottom, is the best he’s had in Indy.

“This has been our strongest roster to date in a training camp,’’ he said.

As difficult as it is to at least temporarily quash a player’s dreams, Reich brings a level of empathy to the table. He never was cut during a 13-year career that included stints with Buffalo, Carolina, the New York Jets and Detroit, but there were a few instances when it came down to the wire.

Twice, Reich was given the option of taking a pay cut or being cut.

“I took a pay cut and stayed,’’ he said, adding the lure of remaining part of the team was strong. “The grass isn’t always greener. You develop core relationships and beliefs with players and coaches that you want to be a part of it. You want to finish what you started.’’

Whatever the discussion is Saturday between team and departing player, it won’t be a brief “Thanks, see ya.’’

“I just think being in this game and trying to be a good teammate and getting close to guys it’s not hard to have empathy and understand what we all go through,’’ Reich said.

Rosie Nix rationale

The Colts already made one cut leading up to Saturday, and it involve releasing Rosie Nix. The veteran fullback was signed to a one-year contract in April with the expectation of being a core special teams player and lead blocker on offense.

“Rosie is a good football player. He’s a winning football player,’’ Reich said. “He’s proven that. It wasn’t his fault, really, that we had to let him go.’’

The offensive staff planned on devising a package that involved using Nix in a two-back set with Marlon Mack or Jonathan Taylor. The Colts believed they could use that package maybe 10 percent of the time each week.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated the entire on-field work, which eliminated more than 300 reps to fine-tune that two-back possibility.

“We just weren’t at the point where we had confidence that this is going to be 10 percent of our offense,’’ Reich said. “We just never got there.

“In Rosie’s defense, it was more about the lack of an offseason. We feel like we are such a good one-back offense team, we didn’t have time to develop the two-back offense to the extent we wanted.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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