INDIANAPOLIS – There are so many teaching moments, and so much to learn.
Mo Alie-Cox was navigating a hallway at the Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center recently when he bumped into Matt Ryan. Or was it the other way around?
Everyone still is trying to get accustomed to each other – Ryan now is the central figure in Indy after 14 prolific seasons in Atlanta – and there’s never a wrong time for a pop quiz between new quarterback and his new tight end.
“He might see you in the hallway and ask you a question: ‘If you get this, what do you have?’’’ Alie-Cox said with a smile.
“Yeah, quiz you. But it’s cool because it’s helping me learn different scenarios in case I don’t know.’’
Alec Pierce hadn’t been approached by Ryan in a similar manner, at least not yet.
“I’ll have to keep that in mind,’’ the 2nd-round draft pick said. “I’m sure it’s coming down the line.’’
Prior to the conclusion of the Colts’ offseason work Thursday, much of Pierce’s interaction with Ryan occurred on the practice field, either between repetitions or after a particular play didn’t unfold as expected.
Ryan always found receptive ears.
When Ryan entered the NFL as the 3rd overall pick in the 2008 draft, Pierce was 8. As Ryan’s career unfolded, Pierce became a fan of Julio Jones, Ryan’s All-Pro wideout.
“I definitely watched a lot of (Jones) and just to know he had Matt throwing to him,’’ Pierce said. “So I was watching Matt for a long time.’’
From observer to active participant.
“It’s cool,’’ Pierce said.
On more than one occasion during the Colts’ on-field work, Ryan sought out his rookie wideout. Maybe something wasn’t quite right or a route could have been run a tad sharper.
Ryan, 37 and heading into his 15th season, has seen virtually everything.
Pierce, 22 and heading into year 1, sees something new every day.
“Obviously he knows the game just from playing so long,’’ he said. “But it’s cool to see how much he knows about receiver.
“He’ll come and coach us up. It’ll be like, ‘Hey, this release we need to be a little better on this one and save more space so I’m able to throw you the ball, if you want to get the ball. I know you beat (the DB) right here, but you didn’t save enough space so I can throw it.’
“It’s cool to see that.’’
The Colts added franchise icon Reggie Wayne to develop their receivers. His presence is undeniable and influence immeasurable.
But no one should underestimate the value Ryan brings to the mix.
Despite the lack of established depth at wide receiver and tight end, it appears the Colts are comfortable heading into what must be a bounce-back season with Michael Pittman Jr., Alie-Cox and a slew of enticing but unproven options in the Ryan-led passing attack.
Frank Reich’s been bullish on both groups throughout the offseason, and that didn’t change following the three-day, mandatory minicamp.
“I feel really good about the group,’’ he said. “The young guys look big, strong and fast.’’
Reich and Chris Ballard will meet in the coming days to determine whether adding a veteran receiver to the mix is needed. T.Y. Hilton remains unsigned and in the discussion.
“I just know this, the guys that were here, they performed very well,’’ Reich said.
Ballard has done so much the past three months to upgrade the roster and put the team in position to atone for last season’s embarrassing collapse. He’s addressed three prime positions – Ryan at quarterback, Yannick Ngakoue at edge rusher, Stephon Gilmore at cornerback – and added several other veterans.
But to this point he’s used the April draft to reinforce wideout (Pierce) and tight end (Jelani Woods and Drew Ogletree).
That leaves both positions relying on Pittman and Alie-Cox and their largely unproven supporting casts to emerge from obscurity.
- of the 12 wideouts, only six have caught a pass in a regular-season game and just four have caught more than 2. And here’s where we remind you the five returning wideouts not named Pittman combined for 28 receptions, 387 yards and four TDs last season. Ashton Dulin was the most productive with 13 catches, 173 yards and two TDs.
- all 12 are 25 or younger.
- Alie-Cox, 28, is the elder statesman of the tight ends room and needs to assume more of a leadership role following the retirement of Jack Doyle. He had 24 catches for 316 yards and four TDs in 2021.
- the only other tight end with an NFL catch: Kylen Granson, with 11 for 106 yards as a rookie.
Ryan was upbeat as he discussed his passing game cohorts.
“I thought we had really good effort from the guys during the spring,’’ he said. “I thought the ability to lock in and really focus on what we’re trying to get better at (was good).
“All in all, I think everybody’s pleased with how the last few weeks have gone.’’
However, it’s only the start.
And again, there’s so much to learn if the passing game is to be a viable complement for the Jonathan Taylor-led run game.
Players are off until reporting to Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield in late July for the start of training camp.
As he did with the Falcons, Ryan intends to schedule some throwing sessions with his receivers/tight ends/running backs during the lull.
“I’ve done that throughout my entire career,’’ he said.
Ryan prefers smaller groups.
“I’ve only got one arm, and everybody wants a lot of catches,’’ he said with a smile. “So I find the work is more beneficial in small groups than getting all 10, 12 guys together.’’
Every rep should prove invaluable, and Ryan realizes the type of influence he could have on the group’s learning curve. At different points of his career, he worked with Jones, who’s likely a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Roddy White and Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.
“I hope to play a big role,’’ Ryan said. “I really think the most important thing is that we are on the same page, that we understand where we’re coming from. I think the experience of having played with a lot of different guys throughout my career and understanding that everybody’s skillset is different, right? It’s not one size fits all on how to run routes. I’ve been around a lot of different body types, a lot of different movement types.
“I think that gives me a pretty good experience to kind of identify similar type players that I’ve played with in how they move and try and help them where I can in terms of how to get open, how to separate and what I’m expecting.’’
In all aspects – leadership, meshing with new teammates, learning the offense, running the offense – Ryan has been as advertised since being acquired in the March trade with the Falcons in the dramatic reset from Carson Wentz.
Passes in 7-on-7 work were crisp and usually hit receivers in stride, providing them with run-after-the-catch opportunities. He showed plenty of arm strength on deep completions to Pittman, Pierce and running back Nyheim Hines.
“Matt was unbelievable,’’ Reich said. “Did a great job, great command, really, (from) A-to-Z. He did everything right. Just great leadership, great play.’’
“I mean the whole way he took command, great collaborating as an offensive staff with him to kind of work in and nuance some of the things we do to kind of suit him and his style.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.