INDIANAPOLIS – The abbreviated present might be a preview of the future of offseason work across the NFL.
Frank Reich called his players together on a practice field late Thursday morning, the final workout of the Indianapolis Colts’ organized offseason work. It lasted two weeks, not the normal 10.
And it took some serious negotiating with his players for Reich to get two weeks. Things came together late and quickly.
“You do have to adapt and modify, which we did this year,’’ Reich said Wednesday. “Remember, there was a point in time a month ago or whenever it was I was wondering if we were going to get anything or is this going to be like last year?’’
The COVID-19 pandemic erased last offseason, forcing everything to be done remotely. Any on-field work, and that was limited, occurred when players gathered somewhere on their own.
As the current offseason approached, players from more than 20 teams planned on skipping all voluntary work and only participate in the mandatory minicamp in June. The Colts never issued a statement through the NFLPA, but it seems they might have followed the majority voice.
“That’s why when I sat down with the guys and we started talking and we started talking about a plan, the one plan was we’ve got three days in June and that’s the extent of it,’’ Reich said. “So we started investigating what are the other alternatives and how can we make this work where we can get a little bit more time than that that would be good for all of us.
The compromise: two consecutive weeks of scaled down, low-tempo work and cancellation of the mandatory June minicamp. Players across the league seemed to be pushing back on owners’ decision to expand to a 17-game regular season.
After Thursday, players are off until training camp opens – the plan is a return to Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield – July 27. One caveat: rookies return next week for one more week before having the summer off.
As is the case with most compromises, not everyone got what they wanted. For the coaching fraternity, more is better.
“Would I have had liked to have another week or two? Absolutely,’’ Reich said. “But I’m very happy with the two weeks that we’ve had, and we got a lot done.’’
The two-week offseason might be the format going forward.
“I’m anticipating that in the future that some of it will be out of my hands as far as decisions being made at a higher level from the league and the players’ union that will govern what happens,’’ Reich said.
Despite the shortened offseason, much apparently was accomplished. Carson Wentz settled in as the starting quarterback; Jacob Eason assumed the backup role; first-round draft pick Kwity Paye began getting comfortable at right defensive end; 10 other rookies, including the other six draft picks, got their first dose of competing at the highest level; and left tackle Eric Fisher, working with trainers as he rehabs from a torn Achilles, got a glimpse of the strong offensive line room he’s joining.
“What I do feel very positive about is the part of it that comes down to us and the players working together,’’ Reich said. “I think we have the right mojo going right there.
“We both know that we have to work. We both know that the work is valuable and that the quality of work has to be good, and that’s what I think we’ve had these past two weeks.’’
Turay on the mend (again)
Maybe this is the season Kemoko Turay can be the player the Colts selected in round 2 (52nd overall) of the 2018 draft. To his point, injuries – most notably a severely dislocated right ankle suffered at Kansas City in week 5 of 2019 – have limited his availability and effectiveness.
“Expectations don’t change,’’ Turay said. “Every year you’ve got to go hard like it’s your last. Mindset is still the same. Trying to go out there and be that defensive end just trying to get 100% healthy and be able to play alongside D-Buck and Grove and Tyquan and the rest of the guys.’’
Turay spent the final 11 games of ’19 on the injured reserve list and the first nine of last season on the physically unable to perform list while completing his rehab from the ankle injury. He clearly wasn’t up to speed when he returned. In seven games, Turay managed four tackles, 1 sack and five quarterback hits.
As it turned out, he still was experiencing discomfort with the ankle. On Feb. 3, he underwent surgery to repair the posterior tendon.
“When I’m pass rushing that was the weakest part and the pain I was feeling at the time,’’ he said.
In hindsight, general manager Chris Ballard wishes he had held Turay longer than was the case. Turay disagreed. He gained medical clearance and was eager to return.
“I wanted to do whatever it took to help the team,’’ he said. “I didn’t think I was rushed. It was good enough for me to play. We did everything we could to make sure I was safe. I was able to monitor and maintain the injury and stuff like that, so it was good.’’
Turay anticipates being ready before the start of training camp.
“That’s the plan,’’ he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of rehabs. I’m moving up to speed now. So far, so good. We’re just trying to get used to building the muscle around it and strengthening the ankle.’’
Surprisingly, Turay is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It’s a big season for a high draft pick who has appeared in 25 games, but missed 23 and been limited to 6.5 career sacks.
“Just staying a lot more focused,’’ he said. “Focused on my ankle, focused on everything around – paying attention to the details of what’s going on during OTAs, getting closer with the boys.
“Control what I can control on my side on and off the field.’’
One of Ballard’s cornerstones to roster building is competition, regardless the position.
Eddy Pineiro is Rodrigo Blankenship’s competition at placekicker.
Included among Ballard’s many offseason personnel moves was signing Pineiro to a one-year, $780,000 contract earlier this month. Pineiro, 25, handled kicking chores for the Chicago Bears in 2019 – 23-of-28 on field goals, 27-of-29 on PATs, a team-high 96 points – but missed last season with a groin injury.
The Colts routinely go into camp with two kickers, but often they carried a spare to ease Adam Vinatieri’s workload. Last season, they held an open competition that pitted incumbent Chase McLaughlin against Blankenship, an undrafted rookie.
“Not quite like last year,’’ Reich said. “It’s open competition, but Hot Rod, he’s the incumbent. Everything has to be earned. Hot Rod had a good season for us last year, so that’s obviously taken into consideration.
“He’ll have to earn it again this year, but it is open competition.’’
Blankenship enjoyed a solid rookie season, albeit with a few hiccups. He set club rookie records in points (139), field goals made (32) and attempted (37). But his five misses included 30-, 41, 50- and 49-yard attempts that hit either the uprights or crossbar. He also was short on a 56-yard attempt.
Most damning was a 33-yard miss – off the left upright – in the third quarter of the first-round playoff loss at Buffalo. The Colts would lose 27-24.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.