“He might kill me, but yeah, I was a little skeptical at first,” Washington said. “I didn’t think negatively, I just didn’t know what to expect. It was, ‘OK, what is this guy going to bring to us?’"
It didn’t take long for Washington to gain an appreciation for his new coach. Ragone has brought new energy to a job that’s been a sore spot for a franchise that’s struggled at the position since relocating to Tennessee in 1997.
It might not qualify as a trend yet, but in the AFC South, a lot of receivers are learning a great deal about routes and coverages through a quarterback’s eyes, something both teams say is a big deal.
“(Reich) knows what it is he’s looking for in the route, in the breaks, in the coverage," Indianapolis vice chairman Bill Polian said. “So, it gives the receiver a totally different perspective. It isn’t about necessarily running this route to get open against this guy. It’s about running this route in a certain way that allows the quarterback to get him the ball. It’s a sophisticated nuance and it’s important.”
Even early in training camp, Reich’s top guy, Reggie Wayne, was singing his praises.
Heading into a contract year trimmed down, Wayne asked Reich in their first interaction to coach him like a rookie. Now, he should be a key factor for Kerry Collins as he fills in for the injured Peyton Manning.
“[Reich] understands what’s kind of tough to do as a receiver and what’s not tough to do,” Wayne said. “A lot of coaches, they’re not able to display or give you that… Frank’s helped with my stance and starts. He talks to all the receivers about getting in a great stance and being able to come off the ball. He gave us a quote already, he said, ‘Plant the seed for speed.’ That stuck with me. He’s big on details and that’s good.
"“We’ve got to make him look good. That’s what it’s all about.”
Ragone throws a lot to his guys in Tennessee. He likes to show off he’s got a big arm.
“He throws more balls than the quarterbacks at practice,” said offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, who hired Ragone in the UFL.
Ragone prepared for his new role during the lockout with hours of research. The new coach read everything and talked to everyone, sifting through drills that can bring things out of a group that’s often seemed to sleepwalk. One that takes place after practice once in a while has receivers reaching with both arms around a goal post stanchion.
That comes from New England Patriots receiver Deion Branch, a teammate of Ragone’s from Louisville who offered it up a few years ago when Ragone asked Branch for his favorite drill. Players can’t bring the ball to their bodies, so they must concentrate on catching the ball with their hands while working on the strength of their fingers.
But it's more than just catching the ball. Washington and Kenny Britt both talked about a new sense of what exactly qualifies as being open that they have learned from a guy who played three seasons as a backup with the Texans and won an Offensive MVP award in NFL Europe.
“You can’t run the route any way you want to and be thinking that you’re right just because you’re open,” Britt said. “Sometimes it’s the timing of the play and it can really hurt the quarterback with how many steps to take and how many hitches he has to take before he throws the ball.”
Ragone looks forward to crossing paths with Reich, a much more successful NFL quarterback, when the Titans meet the Colts.
Will the two start a revolutionary movement of former quarterbacks to wide receiver coaching positions?
Let’s not jump on that, despite Matt Hasselbeck telling me “it would be very easy to do.”
First we need to see how receivers in Indianapolis and Tennessee do with the new tutoring.
“[Ragone] is leading us in the right direction and we’re getting to the potential that we could have been [getting to before],” Washington said. “It’s exciting right now.”