Colts' new offensive coordinator putting players to the test

INDIANAPOLIS -- The days of multiple choice and short-answer tests were supposed to be over once the offensive players left college for the NFL.

Not for the Indianapolis Colts' offensive players.

New coordinator Nick Sirianni has added his own twist to teaching his players the offense he and coach Frank Reich will run next season. He gives the players a test to see how well they're grasping the system.

"I'm buying into what these coaches are bringing to the table," receiver Ryan Grant said. "In college, I had a couple of football tests, but with the Redskins we didn't really do paper tests. It was totally different and I like it. I like change. Whatever they need to do to help learn the offense I'm willing to do."

Sirianni, who was with the Chargers with Reich, comes from a family with an education background. His mother and father were teachers. So taking that teaching approach was an easy decision for him, because he was taught early on in his coaching career to find out what the players know and "don't assume anything, and a great way to do that is by doing it in front of their peers and holding them accountable, and for their answers to be accountable."

"What I feel like it does, it forces them to study," Sirianni said. "[It] forces them to study even a little bit more than they would. They're prideful guys that want to be right. They want to look good in front of their peers. That's why they're in the positions that they're in. I've done that for a little [while] and always felt like it worked pretty well, so continued it here."

Reich added, "I think every coach is a little bit like that, but Nick is probably to the extreme on that. When we worked together in San Diego, he was the same way. I really like that about [Sirianni] because you're just being held accountable every day -- to your peers and to the coaching staff. And really, the whole goal of it is never to embarrass anyone, it's to create competition."

The tests aren't simply about knowing each individual responsibility. It's about knowing the responsibility of the other 10 offensive players on the field in a system that will be up-tempo and uses a number of different formations to find and exploit mismatches. That means a player such as receiver T.Y. Hilton needs to know what the running back is supposed to do on each play, the same way he needs to know what route tight end Jack Doyle is running. This is a different way for Hilton to learn the offense under his fourth offensive coordinator in just seven seasons since entering the NFL in 2012. The Colts -- minus quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder) -- finished 31st in the NFL in total offense last season. Reich's Super Bowl-winning offense finished seventh in the category.

"We're not handicapped in this offense," receiver Chester Rogers said, "and I feel like it's going to bring the best out of all our potential ... It's putting players in positions and groups that they're good at. They're really using (Eric) Ebron, Jack (Doyle), me, T.Y., putting us everywhere. [The scheme] is a lot more flexible. Everybody's excited. Different teams that run this offense, everybody's open."

The written test allows the coaching staff see who is studying their playbook and paying attention in the film sessions. There's no skating around or cutting corners when it comes to the test, because they have to know different formations and the skill position players have to know the route-running tree.

"It's different ways of putting the same information out there," Rogers said. "You have to remember what the coach said five minutes ago or two weeks ago. They bring in information from all around and you just have to remember it. You get on the board, then you're on the field going full speed and you have to remember what you did in the classroom. That's really sometimes the hardest part, putting it on the field and knowing in a split second what you have to do."

The competition to get the highest grade is there because there's no grading curve and everybody knows what grade their teammate receives. There's plenty of trash talk involved, too, as Rogers made sure to point out he received the highest grade on one of the recent tests and Grant said he's not "flunking" any test.

"[I got a] 96 and the craziest thing is, I missed the easiest one on the test," he said. "They post [the scores]. Everything is competitive. Behind the scenes [we clown about the scores]. We don't do it in front of everybody."