What are you liking about your team heading into this season opener on the road against a divisional opponent?
Reich: “I mean, I think the way we practiced this week was very professional, very fast, clean and crisp, really good execution, guys dialed in mentally — very few mental errors. Those are all good indications for Sunday.”
I’ve got to imagine it’s a bit of a challenge to get ready for a Week 1 opponent that has a good bit of turnover on its roster and it’s coaching staff when you don’t have any preseason film to study.
Reich: “No doubt, but I don’t think we look at it as difficult; it’s just the way it is. You just (approach it like): here’s the challenge before us, let’s go to work. So in one respect, offensively we’re looking at a defense that has kept the same coordinator and kind of the same system. I’m sure they’ll have a few new wrinkles that they’ll do, and personnel-wise obviously there’s been some turnover, so we’ve just got to focus on what we do. Obviously a new offensive coordinator … but a guy who’s been around the block. So you can do some study on Jay (Gruden) and know that, ‘Here’s a few things that are indicative of his offense,’ and I’m sure they’ll keep some things that they did last year, since much of the staff has also remained the same. But I think the guys have embraced all of that and coaches have done a good job getting them ready.”
How excited is Philip Rivers to make his debut with the Colts after spending 16 seasons with the Chargers?
Reich: “Yeah, I think Philip’s very excited, like we all are, just to play ball, and play with a new team. I mean, he looked really, really good this week in practice. I know he always looks good, but just looked particularly sharp. It’s funny: at 38 years old, or whatever, you’d think maybe this would get old, but you can still feel the youthful enthusiasm, and that’s what we’re expecting from him.”
You’ve got wide receivers T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell back and healthy to begin the season after both had injury-plagued years in 2019. How nice will that be to have those guys to throw the ball to on Sunday?
Reich: “Very excited for those two guys being back in the lineup. I expect those guys to be big playmakers for us. You know, they’re receivers, so it comes and goes — a receiver gets hot one day and then might go a game or two and be quiet and then explodes again. So we have to really work at getting all these guys involved over the first couple games. Everybody needs to stay patient — everybody’s gonna get their shots, now. We’re gonna trust we’re gonna be a good offense and we’re gonna move the ball, spread the ball around, but T.Y., as we know, is our leader, so we’ll do a good job of trying to get him the ball, and we really expect Parris to take a big step in his development and career.”
You have multiple rookies that are likely to play major roles for you beginning Sunday. What advice do you give them as they head into their NFL debuts?
Reich: “Just take a deep breath. Football is football. Trust your teammates. Don’t try to do too much. Just play your game; you don’t have to be … a lot of these guys were superstars on their college team, so just go out and do your job. Focus on the little things. Shrink it down and adjust to your assignment and what you need to do. Be a trustworthy teammate to the guys who line up to your right and left, and just get the job done.”
When you look at this Jaguars defense, there’s lots of changes, including two first-round picks in cornerback CJ Henderson and defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson. What’s your take on that Jacksonville unit?
Reich: “You know, young, fast. Chaisson, obviously his college tape was incredible, so it’ll be fun to see him play. I mean, guys like that coming into the league is part of what makes the NFL tick. So we’re excited to go up against Jacksonville. As I’ve said throughout the week: we have a lot of respect for this team; it’s a division opponent. But we’re excited about the team we’re taking down there and looking forward to the challenge.”
What about the Jacksonville offense? New coordinator in Jay Gruden, new tight end in Tyler Eifert and a talented second-round draft pick in wide receiver Laviska Shenault.
Reich: “Jay Gruden, he does a good job of spreading it around. That West Coast offense, they’ve got good play-action and quick-rhythm passing game, and, as you said, Eifert is a good player, Shenault, good draft pick — we really liked Shenault coming out, as well — and then you’ve got DJ Shark. So they’ve got weapons all over the place. Garner Minshew really had a good season last year, so obviously a strong leader for them; they’ve got a lot of confidence in him. So defensively, we just want to dictate the tempo. We really want to dictate the tempo. We know they’re talented, but we want to play our game, focus on doing our jobs and really dictate the tempo with the way we physically play and the way we finish play after play.”
We saw in the Thursday Night Football opener between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans that there were some fans in the stands. They’re expecting just less than 17,000 people to be in the stands in Jacksonville on Sunday. At this point, is that something that’s notable to your team, or do you just try to focus on the game?
Reich: “I think our players are going to do a good job of handling that circumstance, whether we’re at a game where there’s 10,000 fans or 20,000 fans or no fans, our guys are just anxious to play ball. So we wanna focus on that. The environment is something that … everybody in this league appreciates all the excitement around this game. So I just think it’ll be a small adjustment for the players, and then hopefully as the year goes on, maybe things can continue to grow, but if not — if we go through the whole year like this — then we’re prepared for that, and we’ll just play it week in and week out, focusing on what we do to win football games.”
Finally, what are a few keys you’re focusing on heading into Sunday’s season opener?
Reich: “We just wanna be good with the football. On offense, we don’t want to turn it over; we want to protect the football. We really want to be good situationally, obviously on third down, the red zone. We want to mix up the run and pass; that’s typically our mode. So we’ve got to be really good there. On defense, we want to be able to create pressure on Minshew. We’ve got a lot of respect for him — he can move around, he can make all the throws, they’ve got some good playmakers there, so we’ve gotta find ways to apply the pressure on him. That starts up front. And then, again, defensively we need to be good in third down and red zone, as well. And special teams, we’re going in with a rookie kicker — we’ve got a lot of confidence. He’s had a good week of kicking here in practice, so looking forward to him in his NFL debut and have a lot of confidence in him. And then I think one of the big tests is the protection on your punt team and field goal team. You know, they haven’t really seen any live rushes, so I think that’s going to be a key area that you’ll see around the league — does anyone get a punt blocked in Week 1 because they really haven’t faced that yet because of the lack of preseason games?”