Colts’ notebook: Frank Reich back on the job following positive COVID test

Indy Blitz

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich greets players before the start of practice at the NFL team’s football training camp in Westfield, Ind., Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

WESTFIELD – Frank Reich was back in his element, even with more than a few – let’s call them distractions – littering his first day at training camp.

“The first 20 minutes for me today on the field were special,’’ he said, a widening smile reinforcing his upbeat disposition. “You’re away 10 days . . . it feels like it’s been a long time.

“So, just good to be back, great to be back at Grand Park. This is a great place for training camp. I’m so excited. Just the perfect setting for us.’’

Reich missed the first week of camp and the prior week with rookies after testing positive for COVID-19. In his absence, coordinators Bubba Ventrone (special teams), Marcus Brady (offense) and Matt Eberflus (defense) assumed larger roles.

Reich’s Monday return, though, was met by what appeared to be another uneven day by the Colts’ offense. Injuries to quarterback Carson Wentz (foot), center Ryan Kelly (elbow) and left guard Quenton Nelson (foot), along with the continuing rehab of left tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles) have contributed to errant passes, pre-snap penalties and an overall herky-jerky performance.

After practice, Reich spent more time than normal addressing the team. Then, the offensive line altered its routine and ran some short gassers.

Reich warned the team this particular post-practice huddle was “going to be a little bit longer.’’

“You guys see me after practice (and) it’s usually not very long,’’ he said. “But because it’s my first day back, because it’s training camp and we’re trying to establish some things . . . it was a positive message. It was, ‘Hey, these are the things we’re establishing, just want to re-emphasize these points early in camp.’

“Really a big message to the whole roster. Like there were some mistakes by the 2s and the 3s and some offsides and some substitution errors, and part of that message was everyone on this roster is important because those 2s and 3s are going to be 1s at times so that’s not acceptable. That’s not the standard. Let’s pick that up, let’s eliminate that and then just reinforcing a lot of positive things that we saw out there today.’’

Reich: Get vaccinated

Reich added his voice to those of general manger Chris Ballard and owner Jim Irsay: get vaccinated. He tested positive for COVID-19 despite being vaccinated but was asymptomatic.

The Colts remain one of the NFL’s least vaccinated teams. Ballard said more than 60% of the players had been vaccinated at the start of camp. Four players have been placed on the COVID-19 list: cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie, defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad and offensive tackle Julién Davenport. Carrie was removed from the list Monday and went through practice.

Along with Reich, another unnamed member of the staff tested positive for COVID-19.

“It’s a real issue, and that’s why we’re working at it,’’ Reich said. “I think our guys are taking it seriously. I think we’re continuing to make progress as a club. We’re continuing to tell the players what we believe. We believe it’s best to get vaccinated. We believe that that’s the best thing.

“We’re going to tell them with all the passion we have what we believe is the right thing to do, but we’re going to trust every person to make their own individual decision. We’re going to hug and tell each other we love each other and nothing is coming between us as a team. We’re on a mission, and we’re not going to let that kind of stuff come between us.’’

Nelson unable to finish

Quenton Nelson was unable to finish Monday’s practice. The All-Pro left guard initially left practice with an ankle injury, returned, but left again. Near the end of practice, Nelson walked off the field without his right shoe and flanked by a trainer.

“I just heard he dinged his foot,’’ Reich said. “I think he got stepped on.’’

Reich was unable to elaborate on the severity of the injury.

With Nelson out, Joey Hunt and Jake Eldrenkamp shared the work at left guard with the starting offense.

More QBs for Mo

Mo Alie-Cox is heading into his fifth season and seemingly dealing with his umpteenth quarterback. Wentz’s foot injury only exacerbated things.

“Yeah, when I saw Carson got hurt, I said, ‘Dang, this is my fifth year here, five different quarterbacks.’ Well, six if you want to count Jacob (Eason),’’ Alie-Cox said. “Next man up and just see what’s going to happen.’’

Since 2017, the Colts have had seven quarterbacks on the regular-season roster at some point: Philip Rivers, Jacob Eason, Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien, Brian Hoyer and Chad Kelly.

Five have started at least one game: Rivers, Brissett, Luck, Hoyer and Tolzien.

The current QB room consists of Wentz, Eason, Sam Ehlinger, Jalen Morton and Brett Hundley.

Regardless how the Sept. 12 opener with the Seattle Seahawks unfolds, the Colts will follow the lead of a different starting quarterback for a fifth straight season opener. The previous four: Rivers (2020), Brissett (’19), Luck (’18) and Tolzien (’17).

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You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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