Coach Reich 'still a part' of Carson Wentz's first Colts camp, despite COVID-19 absence

WESTFIELD, Ind. -- Carson Wentz took the field for his first training camp as the new starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday morning.

But a significant piece was missing -- the same piece that played an instrumental part in the quarterback being traded to Indianapolis from Philadelphia.

Head coach Frank Reich.

Reich won’t be there in person during the early portion of training camp to talk to Wentz in between series in practice, applaud him for making the right read on a throw or for throwing the ball away instead of taking a sack, or to give him any guidance on anything else that may come up in practices.

And what Reich missed on Wednesday was a quarterback feeling like it was Christmas morning.

"I was telling (offensive coordinator Marcus) Brady I'm a little amped, I have to tone it down a little bit," Wentz said. "It feels like the first day of school a little bit, coming out here, beautiful setting for training camp. You have farm lands all around you. My type of place."

Wentz, the rest of his teammates and the entire coaching staff will spend at least the first few days of training camp preparing for the start of the regular season without their head coach. Reich is currently away from the team after testing positive for COVID-19 late last week. He said in a statement Monday that he’s fully vaccinated and asymptomatic. There is no set timetable for when Reich will return to the team. The Colts will practice four straight days before taking a day off Sunday. The hope is that Reich will be back by at least Aug. 2.

The pandemic has been around for more than 16 months, but this is the first time that Reich will spend time away from the team due to COVID-19. Special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone missed some time, including a game, due to it last season.

“It’s going to be tough without the head coach,” receiver T.Y. Hilton said. “He’s being involved. He’s at home recovering.”

Duties in Reich’s absence will be divided up, as general manager Chris Ballard said they will not name an interim head coach for the time being. Duties will be split up pretty evenly between Ventrone, Brady and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.

“Bubba is a little more free during practice, so he’ll handle some of the practice duties,” Ballard said. “Frank is still a part of it. With everything we learned a year ago with Zoom, he’s still involved. He’s in meetings through Zoom, he’ll be in team meetings through Zoom. We have staff meetings every morning, and he is in constant contact with everybody. We just keep moving forward.”

Brady, who is in his first year as offensive coordinator of the Colts, handled the post-practice media session that Reich routinely does. Eberflus will address the media Thursday.

Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner understands what Reich is going through. He said it was "terrible" and he was "frustrated" having to miss a game while being stuck at home due to COVID-19 last season.

"Sent him a text a couple of days saying he was in mine and my wife's prayers," Buckner said. "I know the type of guy he is, I know he's frustrated, not being able to be out here physically with the team, kicking off the season. I've been in his shoes. It's very frustrating."

Not having Reich for the start of another training camp with a new quarterback in Wentz isn’t ideal no matter how you look at it because he is the head coach and the team's offensive playcaller.

The good thing -- if you want to say there’s anything good about Reich's absence -- is that he already has a two-year relationship with Wentz, when he was the offensive coordinator during the quarterback's first two years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles (2016-17).

"He tunes into every meeting," Wentz said. "We talk individually or as a position group. He's just as involved as he can. I know it's killing him not being out here. He's doing well. He's doing everything he can to be a part of it."

Brady, the first-time NFL offensive coordinator, has been on Reich’s staff since Reich became head coach in 2018. And Reich, even though he is the offensive playcaller, has never been overbearing with his coaching staff. It also helps that the Colts have the majority of their offensive starters back from last season's team that went 11-5 and reached the playoffs.

“I don’t think it’ll be any different,” running back Nyheim Hines said. “First of all, Frank is a very laid-back guy. He’s not hands on, so he’s laid back, very quiet. ... Our draft class has a lot of leaders on this team. We’re going to hold it down for Frank. We’re going to give him something to be excited about when he comes back.

"We know we’re losing our leader, but we have a lot of other leaders on this team and we’re going to be asked to step up."