Health (including Quenton Nelson’s) not a concern as the Colts head to Jacksonville


FILE – In this Nov. 10, 2019, file photo, Indianapolis Colts offensive guard Quenton Nelson (56) looks to block against the Miami Dolphins during the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

INDIANAPOLIS – There will be no excuses as the Indianapolis Colts take their first step into the 2020 season Sunday at Jacksonville.

And that includes health issues.

All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson was back at practice Friday after missing Thursday’s work with a back injury. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo was limited Wednesday and Thursday with an oblique injury and had his usual rest day Friday. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly had a similar week of preparation: held out of Friday’s practice after two limited sessions due to a knee injury.

A few other players had Friday off – among them Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton, defensive end Justin Houston and defensive lineman Denico Autry – but there isn’t a concern with any of them.

“Those guys will all be up and ready to go,’’ Frank Reich said on a Friday Zoom conference call. “We’re looking forward to that. We’re looking forward to having a squad that’s really quite healthy going into week 1.

“That’s what we were hoping for.’’

The only player ruled out of Sunday’s opener at Jacksonville is Julian Blackmon. The rookie safety still isn’t 100 percent after undergoing knee surgery in December.

Reich is adamant he oversaw his best training camp roster, and believes the Colts are in position to challenge for the AFC South title and a playoff spot.

Houston agrees as he enters his 10th season and second with the Colts.

“I know the talent is crazy,’’ he said. “I definitely think we have all kind of talent from offense to defense to special teams. In all phases, Chris Ballard did a great job of getting talent in the room.

“I’m just excited to see how we can play together. We know the game of football. You’ve got to play as a team. You can have 11 Hall of Famers that don’t play on the same page and it will do you no good.

“We’ve just got to play together as a group. I’m excited to see that happen on Sunday.’’

The Colts’ first step comes in Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field, which hasn’t exactly been an environment conducive to their success. The last time they won in Jacksonville was 2014.

“We had a very good week of practice getting ready for a divisional opponent that we respect greatly,’’ Reich said. “Anticipate going down there and being really focused . . . knowing that we have to play our best game against this team.

“We haven’t fared well in this stadium, so we need to be focused play by play and try to take care of business.’’

The Colts’ season-opening travails are well-documented. They’re 1-9 in their last 10 openers, have lost seven straight openers on the road and haven’t won a road opener since 2006 against the New York Giants.

Again, no excuses will follow the Colts to Florida. That includes the absence of on-field work during the offseason, zero preseason games and a condensed training camp.

“I think our players, mentally and physically, are prepared,’’ Reich said. “And you need to be in this league, cause every week you’re going up against an opponent that can knock you down and take you out.

“We don’t expect any excuse . . . we’ve had plenty of chances to knock the rust off.’’

There’s no overstating the importance of Nelson, Castonzo and Kelly being ready for the opener. They’re integral components on an offensive line that’s considered one of the NFL’s best.

That offensive line was the NFL’s only group to start all 16 games last season, and the Colts’ first to do so since 2000.

Which mask?

Reich has experimented with various face coverings during training camp, and will take an assortment with him to Jacksonville.

“I’m going to have everything down there,’’ he said.

That includes the type of face shield Andy Reid wore Thursday night during Kansas City’s opening win over Houston at Arrowhead Stadium. Texans coach Bill O’Brien wore what appeared to be a more conventional face covering.

The temperature in Jacksonville is expected to be in the mid-80s, so Reich needs to see how that affects a face shield.

“I may bring that our and try it out and see how it responds to the weather, see how it feels,’’ he said. “I’ve experimented with all forms of protection. Just make the decision down there.’’

Houston was apprehensive

Count Houston among those who tuned in for Thursday’s Chiefs-Texans game. That’s because he wasn’t certain there would be an NFL season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was fun because I never thought we’d get to this moment,’’ he said. “To actually see this moment and to realize we play Sunday . . . it was actually a good feel to actually see football and sports.

“We didn’t know until a couple of weeks ahead of time if we were showing up for training camp. The whole world had concerns if we were going to play football or not.’’

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