Speed, situational video part of conversation as Colts prep for Lions

Colts

Head Coach Frank Reich of the Indianapolis Colts talks with Philip Rivers #17 during the game against the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 27, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – There’s so much to discuss as the Indianapolis Colts emerge from their bye and head into the teeth of their schedule.

But at one point, Wednesday’s conversation turned to speed. Or the lack of it.

First things first.

All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard (groin), rookie wideout Michael Pittman Jr. (leg) and defensive end Kemoko Turay (ankle) returned to practice Wednesday afternoon. The status of each will be determined as the week unfolds, but it probably will take someone hiding Leonard’s helmet to keep him out of Sunday’s game at Detroit.

Also, tight end Mo Alie-Cox didn’t practice and might miss a second straight game with a knee injury.

As for the Colts heading into the tougher portion of their schedule, after the road trip to Detroit – the 3-3 Lions have won three of their last four – they’re looking at a four-game gauntlet that undoubtedly holds the key to any postseason aspirations. The Ravens, Tennessee Titans (twice) and Green Bay Packers are a combined 20-4. There’s also a week 16 visit to 6-0 Pittsburgh.

But speed, remember?

Part of that discussion centered around Seattle wideout DK Metcalf’s chase-down of Arizona safety Budda Baker Sunday night. Baker intercepted a Russell Wilson pass near the goal line and headed up the left sideline. Metcalf, trailing the play by roughly 10 yards, chased down Baker at the 8-yard line. The Cardinals wasted Baker’s 90-yard return when they failed to score.

As he walked to the sideline, Baker was incredulous.

“How’d he catch my ass?’’ he said.

Speed, that’s how.

Baker ran a 4.45 40 at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine. Metcalf, an imposing 6-4, 229-pounder, clicked off a 4.33 at the ’19 Combine.

Reich shows a video to his players on Saturday that includes approximately 20 special situational plays from across the NFL. It might involve two-minute and four-minute execution or something from special teams. Plays that accentuate playing smart and showing awareness always find their way to the video.

George Li, the team’s strategy analyst/game manager, pores over every play from every game each week. His initial video of 30-35 plays is pared down to roughly 20 by Reich and John Park, the team’s manager of football research and strategy.

The idea is to expose and educate the players to as many situations and rules as possible.

“I’m sure that may get on there,’’ Reich said of Metcalf’s never-quit sprint that ultimately saved the Seahawks seven points. “I love seeing those plays. I know my family as fans, that was the talk and chatter through texts and conversations.

“I’ve seen a couple of other really great chase-down plays, but that was certainly up there in the same zip code as some of the other really great ones.’’

Reich had a very good view of one of those.

It was in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXVII, and he had taken over for Buffalo starter Jim Kelly. The Bills trailed Dallas 52-17, and Cowboys defensive lineman Jim Jethcoat sacked Reich, forcing a fumble. Leon Lett scooped it up and headed for what should have been a 69-yard touchdown.

Don Beebe had other ideas and immediately gave chase. When Lett eased up and began showboating at the 5-yard line, Beebe swatted the football out of his hands for a touchback.

The topic of speed also spilled over into the quarterback neighborhood.

Defensive end Justin Houston is in his 10th season and has had to deal with every variety of QB. The fastest he’s faced?

 “Lamar Jackson,’’ he said without hesitation.

Why?

“Have you watched him play? That’s the real question,’’ Houston replied. “When I was in Kansas City I played against him. He is hands-down, by far the fastest, quickest quarterback.

“That’s no knock toward any other quarterback. There’s a lot of quarterbacks with speed, but no other quarterback moves the way he moves in that pocket, and when he get out of that pocket, he is so dangerous.’’

Houston and the Colts get to deal with Jackson Nov. 8 when the Ravens visit Lucas Oil Stadium. And it will offer a dramatic contrast in QB quicks.

Jackson didn’t run at the ‘18 Combine but recorded a 4.34 40 at Louisville’s spring workout in 2017. Similarly, Philip Rivers didn’t run at the ’04 Combine, and lets his 40 time at North Carolina State’s Pro Day speak for him.

“I think there were a variance of times from a 4.98 to a 5.08. So somewhere in that 5-flat range,’’ he said.

Buddy Nix, the San Diego Chargers’ assistant GM at the time, told Rivers he clocked him in 4.98.

“So I’ve always gone with that one,’’ he said with a smile. “Right now, I don’t think I’d be too far off from that if I got good and loose.

“I’m definitely not any faster, that’s for sure.’’

That’s been evident during the Colts’ 4-2 start. Rivers has been sacked a league-low five times, and two would have been avoided had he been a half-step faster. He escaped the pocket but was tackled from behind before crossing the line of scrimmage.

“I don’t get surprised, but you know they’re coming,’’ Rivers said. “I’m certainly uncomfortable out there in that open space, and it doesn’t stay open too long.’’

The Colts’ QB room isn’t exactly Speed Central. We’ll give Rivers his 4.98. Jacoby Brissett recorded a 4.94 40 in the 2016 Combine. Rookie Jacob Eason posted a 4.89 at the Combine in February.

And Reich, 58, isn’t able to lift the group’s swiftness factor.

How would a race with Rivers turn out?

“Can I take him? In a foot race? No,’’ Reich said with a laugh. “You’re too young to have seen my lack of speed when I was playing, which was really slow.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

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