INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Faith, I am told by the dictionary, is a deep, abiding belief in things you can’t see, things for which there is no proof.
Good thing Frank Reich, the soon-to-be-introduced head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, is a man of great faith. We’re not talking “goes to church on Sundays’’ faith. We’re talking about a man who received a Master of Divinity after his 1998 retirement from the National Football League, a man who led a Charlotte seminary for several years and worked as a pastor. As former Colts quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen told me, “He’s cut from the same cloth as Tony [Dungy] and Jim [Caldwell].’’
Well, then, he’s going to need lots of faith – miracles, anybody? – to see a way for his new team, the 4-12 Colts, to make the leap from horrid to mediocre and then beyond. Make no mistake, Reich is walking into a complete rebuild, although that timetable will be accelerated if and when Andrew Luck returns to action. This is a team that had the worst offense in the league and the worst defense in the league, and that doesn’t get fixed in one offseason. What I’m saying is, patience, folks, patience. This will not be a Sean McVay-in-LA overnight resurrection.
It’s so simplistic, it’s almost not worth noting, but here it is anyway: This is largely (mostly…completely) about Luck. Last we checked, he still wasn’t throwing a football during his most recent rehab assignment out in Los Angeles, which is more than a little bit concerning. Right now, the Colts are saying he won’t need another surgery, but as Chris Ballard noted recently, that’s just right now. Things could take a turn for the worse down the road. When it comes to Luck and that balky right shoulder, expect the worst and hope for the best.
Again, faith. The belief in something we haven’t and can’t see. Like Luck throwing 40-yard darts down the field. Remember the good old days?
Then there’s an offensive line, now coached by newcomer Dave DeGuglielmo, which requires a nearly-complete recalibration. Ryan Kelly is your center. Anthony Castonzo, who found his footing last season, is your left tackle. And beyond that? What do they do with free agent Jack Mewhort? This looks like a 40-to-60 percent rebuild, or maybe even more.
It’s my sense they look at the free-agent market to upgrade the offensive line. As more college teams go to the spread offense, collegiate offensive linemen are less prepared for the pro game than they were, say, 10 years ago. Draftees on the O-line take time, and if you have Luck back there, you don’t want anybody who is learning on the fly. There are no sure things on the free-agent market – just ask Ryan Grigson – but at least you’re getting offensive linemen who are armed with experience and the necessary pro-game skillsets.
Needs? Yeah, they got ‘em. Like at wide receiver, where I just can’t imagine that Donte Moncrief will return after another disappointing season. The Colts desperately need a bookend for T.Y. Hilton, if only to take some of the double-team pressure off the team’s alpha receiver. Really, they need several receivers at this point.
Running back will be intriguing because Penn State’s Saquon Barkley figures to be available when the Colts select third in the NFL Draft. Marlon Mack looks like a perfect backup/change-of-pace guy and Robert Turbin is an effective short-yardage runner, but the Colts lack a marquee guy, or at least somebody who can carry the bulk of the load.
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Here’s my thought on Barkley:
If the Draft was tomorrow, I would grab Bradley Chubb, the North Carolina State pass rusher who would provide the Colts will an element they haven’t had since Robert Mathis’ glory days. Elite pass rushers aren’t around later in the draft – with the notable exception of Mathis – while running backs can be found anywhere.
That said, if Barkley comes to Indy and blows everybody away in the Combine and establishes himself as the best non-quarterback on everybody’s board by a good margin, I’d think long and hard about taking him at No. 3. When you have as many glaring needs as the Colts, you take the guy who has a chance to be a transformational player. If that’s Barkley, grab him and don’t look back.
All things being equal, though, I go with Chubb.
The defense is not only looking at a continuing rebuild in terms of personnel, it’s getting a philosophical facelift with a new defensive coordinator (Matt Eberflus) and a new 4-3 approach. There are some nice pieces on that side of the ball despite their league ranking: Jabaal Sheard and John Simon at linebacker…Henry Anderson, Johnathan Hankins and Al Woods on the defensive line…Malik Hooker, Clayton Geathers, Rashaan Melvin in the secondary (depending on whether the Colts retain Melvin, who is a free agent).
I know this: Reich has a lot of highly respected football people in his corner. Like Bill Polian, among many others.
“We [Polian and Reich] had a conversation when he was playing for us. I told him, 'I hope you play for 20 years, but when it’s over, you really need to think about coaching'," Polian recalled Monday night. “So when I came to Indy in 1998, I called him and told him I’d love to have him come here and be on the staff and work with Peyton. He told me he wasn’t ready at the time and that he had the seminary commitment. I told him, 'If you change your mind, don’t forget my number.' Then out of the blue, he called me [before the 2008 season] and said, 'I think I’m ready. This is what I want to do.' And he did a great job with us and continued to do a great job, culminating in both the selection of [Carson] Wentz and his development, and then getting Nick Foles ready to play the game of his life.
“Frank is extremely intelligent and tremendously prepared…His work ethic is second to none. He’s unflappable. He’s as fine a person as you’d ever want to meet. The media may not see it, but he's very inspirational and an outstanding speaker. He's just very low key in public. He had all the qualities necessary to be a great head coach and you didn't need to be a genius to see it.’’
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Faith? Reich is going to need it.
“He would always jokingly look down his nose at me when we were in Bible study and say, 'Wait, do you have an MDiv?'" Christensen said.
“A Master of Divinity,’’ said Christensen, himself a man of faith. “It became kind of a running joke. Before the Super Bowl, I talked to him and told him I was praying for him, even though I’m just a coach who doesn’t have an MDiv.’’
Now, how that relates to his ability to be a head coach of an NFL franchise remains a complete mystery. Personally, I don’t care who you pray to, or if you pray to anybody, or if you choose to wear your faith on your sleeve or keep it private…none of my business, none of my concern. To each his or her own.
All I’m saying is, Reich, a man of faith, is going to need a whole lot of it here in Indianapolis.