INDIANAPOLIS – It was the phone call every head coach dreads this year.
Sometime after 5 a.m., Frank Reich got the word from Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard on Friday. Four coronavirus tests had returned positive, and the team was shutting down the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center as it followed protocols to confirm the results.
Reich didn’t blink. He simply got to work.
Ballard handled communication with the league office while Reich set up contingency plans with the coaching staff.
“OK, let’s plan on playing Sunday until we hear anything further,” Reich remembers telling his assistants, “but let’s have Plan B and C ready if we’re playing Monday night, if we’re playing Tuesday.”
In the end, it was a false alarm.
By mid-afternoon, the retests had come back negative, the facility was re-opened and the Colts participated in a “jog through” practice under the league’s intensive protocol that includes wearing protective personal equipment – specifically masks and gloves – even while in uniform.
“I just felt like with some of the (restrictions) it just made sense that we could jog through, get all the looks we needed to get, get our bodies going a little bit, get the heart rate going a little bit, but not going full speed seemed like the right thing,” Reich said. “I think we got everything accomplished we needed to do.”
Indianapolis (3-2) was fortunate.
Last week, the NFL rescheduled eight games in the wake of outbreaks with the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots. As a result, 11 of the 16 AFC teams have had at least one game moved from its original date.
The Patriots’ game against the Denver Broncos already has been postponed twice and could be in danger again Sunday after the team reported a fifth positive test and canceled practice.
The Colts are still scheduled to host the Cincinnati Bengals (1-3-1) on Sunday (1 p.m., FOX), pending any further positive tests.
Friday gave the franchise a real-time look at its virus contingency plan, and Reich was happy with what he saw.
“That virtual offseason that we had (in the spring) made it feel, like, seamless,” Reich said. “When we eventually set the schedule – once it all came together and we were setting the time for the team meeting and knowing that we were going to have the meetings virtually and then come in for practice, the turnaround time was pretty quick. How quickly our coaches turned all their install things into virtual meetings, it was flawless, and I think they did a great job in the meetings.
“Players did a great job. Everybody was locked in. Literally, I told Chris, I said, ‘It felt like a normal Friday meeting, like we did our normal install meetings and now let’s go practice.’”
Disruptions are a constant in every facet of life in 2020, and Indianapolis has been preparing for a day like Friday since the start of training camp.
Every time there’s been a red flag somewhere across the league, Reich has taken a few seconds to remind his players of the stakes.
He rarely needs to look for a recent example. The AFC South-leading Titans, for instance, had to play Tuesday this week against the previously undefeated Buffalo Bills. Despite a 16-day layoff during which time 23 members of the organization tested positive, Tennessee rolled to a 42-16 victory.
The general message is prepare for the worst and react with your best.
“Create the mindset that you’re built for anything,” Reich said. “We can come from behind. We can win when we are ahead. We can win under any circumstances if we have to adjust without practice, with practice. Try to create a mindset – and that is easy with our team because of the kind of quality players we have.”
The Colts ruled out tight end Mo Alie-Cox (knee) and offensive lineman Chaz Green (back) for Sunday’s game.
All-pro linebacker Darius Leonard (hamstring) did not practice for a second consecutive week and was listed as doubtful.
Left tackle Anthony Castonzo (rib) and defensive end Denico Autry (knee/ankle) were listed as questionable, though both were full participants in Friday’s practice. Defensive end Justin Houston (hip) and running back Jordan Wilkins (calf) also were questionable but did not participate Friday.
Wide receiver Auden Tate (shoulder) was listed as doubtful, and cornerback Mackensie Alexander (hamstring) was listed as questionable for Cincinnati.