INDIANAPOLIS – It’s all about repetition and routine. Find and settle into a comfort zone that allows you to flourish while walking among some of the greatest athletes on the planet.
Part of Peyton Manning’s meticulous journey from 1st overall draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts to a spot in Canton, Ohio was doing the same thing at the same time before every game. While getting his ankles taped, he would flip through the game program. He was particularly interested in the “Colts Connections’’ section.
At the proper time, he’d stroll out of the tunnel and work through the entire route tree, first with Marvin Harrison and then with Reggie Wayne.
The games and opponents and stadiums changed, but never his approach.
“It’s not superstitious to where if you go out at 11 instead of 11:05 you’re going to lose,’’ Manning said. “You just try to keep a routine.’’
Same with Jack Doyle.
The pregame routine he’s followed during his seven-year career includes going out with the tight ends two hours before the game. That’s non-negotiable. Once he’s settled on a particular pregame meal, he’s loathe to mess with it.
“I try to keep it the same,’’ Doyle explained.
That’s generally the case whether we’re talking about the hours leading up to a game, or the weeks and months leading up to that game.
Routine rules. Players, and coaches for that matter, thrive on knowing the schedule for today, tomorrow, next month.
The offseason program begins in mid-April followed by OTAs in mid-May. Veteran minicamp is on the books for mid-June. After a month off, players report to training camp in late July. The season opener is on the books for early September. If everything goes as planned, you’re at the Super Bowl in early February.
But it’s also critical for everyone to be adept at adjusting with little or no notice.
While Doyle embraces structure and, well, monotony, he understands the importance of adapting to sudden change.
Remember, one day he was a member of the Tennessee Titans and the next he was playing for his hometown Colts. One day he was a Pro Bowl tight end, the next he was dealing with hip and kidney injuries that curtailed his 2018 season.
One day he’s catching passes from Andrew Luck, and then it’s Matt Hasselbeck, Scott Tolzien or Jacoby Brissett.
And now, it’s Philip Rivers.
One day in the spring he’s preparing to report to the Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center for the start of the team’s offseason program, and the next the NFL’s business turns into a Zoom-fest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s been all of our lives I’m sure the past whatever months,’’ Doyle said Wednesday on a Zoom conference call. “So, yeah, it’s been tough, but trying to keep a normal routine as much as possible.
“Again, starting way back in April when we’re supposed to be coming in here for spring ball and OTAs and stuff, then not, and doing the Zoom meetings and finding a new routine in that. Then finding a new routine in the summer, finding a new routine in how we are doing training camp right now.
“It’s just what it is and it’s been different, but it’s been good. Credit to our coaches and our staff of keeping it as close to normal as they could, and we’ve been able to get a ton of work in.’’
After the COVID-19 pandemic reduced every team’s offseason program to a virtual format, the NFL and players’ union agreed protocols for training camp that include daily testing of players and a graduated return to the practice field.
The early portion of camp was reserved for strength and conditioning, and the Colts now enter Phase 2, which involves two days of full-speed work. Players are not allowed to line up against each other – offense versus defense – so the focus is on positional drills and honing fundamentals.
“A good chance for the guys to go full speed and to feel what that feels like on the football field,’’ Frank Reich said. “Not just running sprints, but playing football.’’
Pads are finally allowed next Monday.
While the entire schedule has undergone major change, Reich believes a team-wide foundation has been put in place that enables his players to handle whatever uncertainty they undoubtedly will face.
“It’s so important to have core fundamentals and principles that you believe in because when you have those, while everything else can be changing and circumstances can be changing, what holds us together – what kind of grounds us – is those underlying principles we always talk about,’’ he said. “When there is a change to the schedule, we’re not changing the principles, we’re not changing the foundation so we have continuity and familiarity in those core things.
“Then we adjust and adapt as needed. You do need to be flexible.’’
A major part of Doyle’s adjustment involves getting comfortable with yet another starting quarterback. The Colts haven’t had the same QB on consecutive opening days since 2015-16 (Luck). The batting order: Luck (’16), Tolzien (’17), Luck (’18), Brissett (’19) and Rivers for the Sept. 13 opener at Jacksonville.
Doyle conceded there is a “little bit of a learning curve’’ with Rivers.
“Just seeing how he sees a defense, what he wants you to do in certain situations,’’ he said. “You just kind of pick his brain from that sense.
“And he’s a great quarterback. Some of the things I’ve always noticed about great quarterbacks is they know your problems as a receiver or as a tight end. They make your job easier in ball placement, the velocity on the ball and all different types of things that they have seen and done so many times.
“It’s been great getting to know Philip over the summer and spend more time with him here at the beginning of training camp. I’m excited to get going for real.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.