DeForest Buckner is locked down in Fresno, California, but wishes he could click his heels together and wake up in Indiana.
He knows any day, he could receive a text or phone call that will spur he, his wife and baby into a quick move east, but he doesn’t know what day that might be. So he waits.
“I mean, it is just a weird time for all of us,” Buckner said, speaking from his in-laws’ home.
The Colts have made many aggressive personnel moves in recent weeks, hiring Philip Rivers as the new quarterback, surfing the free agent market for other fill-in pieces, then selecting some explosive players in the NFL draft.
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But outside of Rivers, Buckner could be the most important addition to a 7-9 team that wants to get well in a hurry.
Buckner is a big dude at 6-foot-7 and 295 pounds, a defensive tackle who is a menace to quarterbacks, collecting 7.5 sacks and four fumble recovers last season during the San Francisco 49ers’ Super Bowl run when he was chosen second team All-Pro.
A native of Hawaii, he starred for the University of Oregon and was a No. 1 draft pick of the 49ers in 2016. Just before this year’s draft, Indianapolis traded its top pick for Buckner, which kind of makes him a two-time, first-round draft selection. At 26, he should be in his prime and add ferocity to the Colts’ front four in a 4-3 defense. That’s why they just gave him a four-year $84 million contract.
Buckner said based on various contacts with the coaches, he knows what they want from him, and it is precisely what he has always done.
“They want to attack up front, and everything is what I expected,” he said.
When a defensive tackle with Buckner’s track record speaks of attacking with the inflection he gave the phrase, it has the ring of a running back announcing, “Just give me the ball.”
It basically means, “This is what I do.” As in ruining other teams’ Sundays because they can’t be stopped when they are at their best.
So far, all of the Colts’ maneuvers have been on paper for the world to see and in virtual reality for the team to see, and no one has seen the field. That makes everything theoretical.
The situation is less than ideal for coaches trying to sort out a roster, especially when the difference in capabilities isn’t obvious and the roster can’t handle more than X amount of receivers, runners or linemen.
It is possible careers will be made or broken in virtual reality as the COVID-19 pandemic rules the earth and prevents needed up-close, face-to-face contact.
Even though he is a football player, not a filmmaker, watching the daily rushes leave Buckner with the impression the Colts have a lot of talent, “a lot of potential and we can take it a long way this year.”
Zoom used to be a word mostly appearing in sentences involving jet planes or other high-speed vehicles. Now, it is part of the everyday vocabulary revolving around national interaction between parties located 1,000 miles apart.
The Colts, as are many professional teams, not only those in the NFL world, are trying to bond via technology at the same time they absorb lectures, playbooks and workouts.
Buckner said there seems to be great camaraderie between members of the team and players are jelling, though he did add a cautionary qualifier: “I mean, that is only over Zoom. I can’t wait to get in the building and be able to really get to know everyone personally.”
Maybe there will be a difference between virtual reality and reality in that way, too.
The average football fan may not understand the intricacies of formations or how a defensive end complements a defensive tackle, but Buckner said it is not all Lone Ranger stuff. Success results from a bigger picture cohesion.
“You rush as a unit,” Buckner said. “You have to build that chemistry with one another.”
Groups need group workouts in-person to become more effective, he said.
“Whenever the whole quarantine thing is lifted, everybody can get back in the building, start getting on the field and doing that work. I’ll feel better,” he said.
In the meantime, he will watch for a text from coach Frank Reich summoning him to Indianapolis.