WESTFIELD, Ind. – Indianapolis Colts fans eagerly anticipated seeing coach Frank Reich and new starting quarterback Carson Wentz reunite Wednesday.
Turns out, they'll may need to wait a few more days.
General manager Chris Ballard announced Monday that Reich is expected to miss the start of training camp after testing positive for COVID-19 late last week. Ballard believes Reich could return to the field early next week and said the fourth-year coach will participate in video calls with players and staff while out.
“I’m excited for training camp, however, I’m disappointed I won’t be there with the team as we start,” Reich said in a statement. “I’m fortunate to be fully vaccinated, and I’m asymptomatic. I’m feeling well, and I’m looking forward to returning as soon as I’m medically cleared.”
NFL rules allow vaccinated people to return to the field after two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
Reich's initial test results came back late last week.
Instead of appointing an interim coach, the Colts plan to split duties between new offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone, with Ventrone expected to take on a greater workload because of the time commitments for other coaches.
Colts players are scheduled to report to camp in suburban Indianapolis on Tuesday. The first of 19 practices is scheduled to be held Wednesday — in front of fans for the first time since 2019 — and most likely without Reich.
“I don’t want this to turn out to be a negative in terms of people running away from getting vaccinated, because it’s still critical,” Ballard said. “I think with Frank testing positive and getting COVID, and having no symptoms, it shows it (the vaccine) works.”
The announcement comes less than a week after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell informed teams canceled games may not be rescheduled this season, and if games are called off because of outbreaks among unvaccinated players, they could result in forfeits.
Indianapolis has reportedly had one of the lower vaccination rates among players, though Ballard said the numbers have increased recently and more than 60% of Colts players now have received at least one vaccination shot. Unvaccinated players, he said, will be required to socially distance and wear masks and could face disciplinary action if they do not comply.
“We've got to protect the team, we've got to keep them safe,” Ballard said. “We have a tremendous group and they want to win, so I know they'll follow the protocols. They did an incredible job following the protocols last year.”
Wentz is Indy's biggest offseason addition. He spent his first two seasons working with Reich in Philadelphia, but Wentz's once-promising career was derailed by the worst season of his career last year. He was benched for the final four games and was eventually traded in March.
Indy believes the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft can revive his career in a new city, with a stronger supporting cast and working with a familiar coach.
But Reich won't be the only missing piece when workouts kick off in suburban Indianapolis.
Two-time All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard will be held out after having ankle surgery in early June. Ballard said Leonard should be ready for the Sept. 12 season opener against Seattle.
Left tackle Eric Fisher, a two-time Pro Bowler and the projected replacement for Anthony Castonzo, went on the physically unable to perform list Sunday, and defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo, Indy's second-round draft pick in April, was placed on the non-football injury list. Both are recovering from Achilles tendon injuries sustained in January and aren't expected to be available for games until October.
Second-year defensive tackle Rob Windsor also recently had season-ending hip surgery and went on injured reserve.
Ballard doesn't expect injuries or Reich's absence to change the training camp game plan.
“We're going to get after it, we have to get after it," he said. “We're young and I think sometimes people forget that. I'd almost bet that when we get to the 53-man cutdown we'll be one of the younger teams in the league. So we have to get after it.”