Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay described a palpable buzz around the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center this week. And that buzz stems from the belief the Colts have the right coach and right quarterback, among others, in place to bring about a “golden era” of football in Indianapolis this decade.
“When you have a coach like (Reich) who really gives a quarterback the best chance to be great in this league, that is really special,” Irsay said. “And I think that’s one of the attributes that I feel make us real Super Bowl contenders is his talent to be able to elevate a quarterback’s play to its very highest of levels.”
Reich and Wentz forged a strong bond five years ago when the Philadelphia Eagles made Wentz the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Reich was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator back then; he was in 2017, too, when Wentz was an MVP candidate and Philadelphia brought home a Lombardi Trophy for the first time.
“I go back to the last time we were all together, it ended in a Super Bowl year,” Colts senior offensive assistant Press Taylor, who also coached Wentz with the Eagles, said. “Carson was on track to having an MVP season before an injury. So that’s an extremely positive past together that you kind of lean on.”
But that past success is just one reason why the Colts are so excited to see where Reich and Wentz can go in 2021 and beyond. Here’s everything we learned this week about the Reich-Wentz relationship and what the Colts are confident it can produce:
Yes, the NFL witnessed the explosive heights reached by Wentz while Reich was his offensive coordinator in Philadelphia.
But the work Reich did last year with Philip Rivers — whom he coached with the San Diego Chargers from 2013-2015 — resonates too as the Colts’ attention turns to Wentz.
“Coach Reich, a year ago, he did the same thing with Philip Rivers. He was able to help his mechanics, help the ball security and get him to play within himself,” former Colts coach Rick Venturi said. “Remember, coaching at the pro level is not just plays. We can find plays on the internet. What coaching is at the NFL level is putting your players in the best position to win and then getting them to buy in. He certainly did it with Philip a year ago. I’m totally confident that he’s going to do it again.”
A part of Venturi’s breakdown — “play within himself” — is important here. In an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio this week, Reich said the biggest thing for Wentz in 2021 will be getting him to play “in rhythm” again.
“How do we do that,” Reich said, “we stay within ourself, we keep ahead of the chains, we run the football, we mix in stuff, we’re efficient, we play good, team, complementary football.”
Reich already did all those things with Rivers last year. And the Colts believe he can do them again with Wentz.
“Re-uniting him back with Frank, who has shown and proven that any time he gets his hands on a quarterback he already has a relationship with,” Ballard said, “there’s a good chance it’s going to be a good marriage and we’re going to have success.”
Reich knows Wentz’s strengths and preferences.
Wentz will be new to his teammates, as well as a number of coaches — offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich and assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier — but the foundation he has with Reich and Taylor “gives us a real leg up,” Milanovich said.
“They have an idea going in of things he likes, things he doesn’t like, things he’s good at, things he may need to improve on,” Milanovich continued. “So I think we start a little bit ahead of the game there because those guys have that experience with them.”
One aspect of how the existing Reich-Wentz relationship can play out in its second act is in how both coach and quarterback know how each other communicates.
Wentz said that relationship allows Reich and him to have “healthy discussions and disagreements” while challenging each other. And that comes from the mutual respect Reich and Wentz share, both as it relates to football and who they are as people.
Wentz added he and Reich see the game similarly, too.
“Frank was a quarterback. He played for 14 years. He gets it from our viewpoint,” Wentz told Matt Taylor and Jeffrey Gorman on The Last Word. “And I think he takes into account each guy and what they do well and how can I maximize who’s pulling the trigger. I’ve seen him do that with myself, I’ve seen him do that with these other guys.
“Just a lot of respect for that and just how he encourages and motivates guys and believes in guys and instills that faith and confidence. But at the same time he’s smart. He’s smart football-wise. He’s smart (with) X’s and O’s.
“So all of those factors allow him to be a great head coach and really great for quarterbacks to work with. I’ve seen it firsthand, we did it for two years in Philly and had a lot of fun doing it, had a lot of success and look forward to hopefully continuing that trend here in Indy.”
The combination of Wentz’s talent and Reich’s coaching is tantalizing.
Peeling back everything else that already exists here for a moment, what the Colts believe they have is a talented quarterback with upside and one of the best offensive minds in football.
“(Reich) really gets an understanding – very realistic on saying, ‘How can I make this player be the best Carson Wentz Carson can be, period?’ I don’t think he tries to make the quarterback something they are not,” Irsay said. “He really is a great asset to the franchise because he’s a great head coach with his leadership and his whole overall looking at the football program.”
And while Wentz’s 2020 didn’t go the way he or the Eagles expected, the Colts still see all the traits that made him the No. 2 overall pick five years ago and one of the NFL’s better quarterbacks from 2017-2019.
“He’s highly intelligent, he’s big, strong, he can make all the throws on the field that you need to make to be a big time NFL quarterback,” Reich said.
“Carson is big, he’s strong, he’s athletic, he’s got a very good arm and he can create and make plays on the run, which is something you always like, which puts pressure on the defense,” Ballard said. “So those are things that we like. There’s things that Carson’s gotta clean up, which we know he’ll work on and do. And I think Frank will put Carson in a position to do what he does well.”
“He’s extremely dedicated to his craft,” Taylor said. “There’s not a lot of people who are going to put in more time whether it’s in the building or away from the building to getting better and doing what it takes to help the team. He’s a very smart player, a very smart person, he’s very tough mentally and physically and you’ll see that in the way he plays the game and I think that a lot of people can respect the toughness he shows at the quarterback position.”
Now add back in everything else — encompassing Wentz’s relationship and familiarity with Reich — and it’s easy to see why the Colts are so excited to get going in 2021 with their new coach-quarterback pairing.
“I have ultimate trust in Frank,” Ballard said. “Whatever he has he’s going to make sure he gets the most out of each and every player and do what they can do well. He’s not going to put them in positions to where they’re not going to succeed. And I think that’s what makes some of the real unique offensive coaches in this league, that’s what they do. And Frank is really special at it, him and the offensive staff. They’re going to figure out what our guys can do and put them in a position to succeed.
“And I think they’ll do the same with Carson. They’ll put him in a position to do what he does well and why I think there’s a high chance of success.”