Colts close to kickoff


The National Football League has passed cut-down day.

Except for anyone with the bad timing to get hurt in the latter part of this week and management’s piqued interest in anyone cut by another team, the Indianapolis Colts’ roster is set.

COVID-19 and God willing, the Colts will play football Sunday. It will be opening day of the 2020 season against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It feels as if it has been years, not months, since the Super Bowl that made the Kansas City Chiefs champs, a dizzying and gloomy stretch of time for the United States and the world coping with a virulent virus that has killed about 900,000 people.

And we as a nation also are dealing with the disaffection of a minority that believes it has been cheated of its rights and proper recognition for the last few hundred years and leading demonstrations in the streets under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter to make those concerns known.

The NBA, WNBA and National Hockey League have been functioning in what has been called bubble environments, seemingly the only successful way to keep athletes healthy and still proceed in the direction of settling championships.

Major League Baseball has no bubble, so it exists on a roller coaster. It makes fans wonder if the optimistic NFL can grind it out week after week and do better. One thing the Colts have in their favor versus the Cincinnati Reds or other baseball teams is that they won’t be playing every day.

For road trips, the Colts will fly into other towns, check into hotels and be ordered not to mingle, eat or drink with other guests, play the game, then flee back to Indiana.

Complex protocols, tight restrictions, social distancing and face masks have thus far been sufficient for pro football to stay on track. However, football is not a noncontact sport. Hopefully, once additional blocking and tackling and up-close breathing on one another by opposing teams becomes more aggressive, things will keep working.

Ordinarily, this would have been a feel-good offseason for the Colts. Forget last year’s 7-9 that missed the playoffs, if the team, the league, fans hadn’t been preoccupied with minor stuff like staying healthy and staying alive.

Free agency in the form of new quarterback Philip Rivers and other selected acquisitions, trades for defensive star DeForest Buckner and the draft, with such offensive personages as Michael Pittman and Jonathan Taylor, give Indianapolis a roster that even the impartial like.

Many football people believe the Colts can win the American Football Conference South Division and make their mark in the playoffs. The other big question mark for teams is a true indication of how much they have jelled without playing any preseason games.

“Expectations are high, but really, like we’ve said in the past, when I talk about high expectations, I’m talking about the way we practice, the way we hold each other accountable,” coach Frank Reich said.

Much likely hinges on Rivers, the new old guy in charge, relegating last year’s starter Jacoby Brissett to backup status. When he does retire, Rivers should become a Hall of Famer, and his end-of-career stint with Indianapolis could be an important denouement after his 16 years with the Chargers.

The way the Colts practiced is different in the age of coronavirus and without exhibition games than teams have prepared before.

“We’ve obviously tried a couple of mock games,” Rivers said. “It’s been weird, too, right?”

At different times, as Reich has presided over conditioning, practices and roster shuffling, he has speculated on how the composition of the team could be affected by the threat of the virus, meaning the Colts might keep one more guy at this position or that just in case the first two guys on the depth chart get sick simultaneously.

Indianapolis did keep three quarterbacks, including fourth-round draft pick Jacob Eason from the University of Washington. Eason may not play at all, or if the wrong players take ill, he could become the starter.

They sail out onto an unmapped ocean on a journey that could deliver great triumph or unexpected disappointment. We live in uncertain times, and the Colts will play in uncertain times.

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