Indianapolis — Reality hit hard as soon as the Indianapolis Colts walked into their locker room Monday morning.
Andrew Luck’s stall was empty, the name plate gone, the era over.
Coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard started the day with a team meeting to discuss how the Colts would proceed without their newly retired starting quarterback.
Luck’s replacement, Jacoby Brissett, took the podium inside a packed media room, Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton wore a Stanford baseball cap to honor his 2012 draft classmate and then it was time to get back to work.
“In one respect this story is unique and shocking,” coach Frank Reich said. “But it’s happened enough where a team loses a great player, and it galvanizes a team and propels them to a championship.”
The former pastor has a vast array of resources to make the point, some from his own experiences.
In 1989, when Jim Kelly got hurt most thought the Buffalo Bills would slow things down for his backup, Reich.
Instead, coach Marv Levy didn’t change a thing and Reich responded by leading the Bills to three consecutive wins. Three years later, with Kelly out again, Reich won two playoff games, including the greatest comeback in postseason history as the Bills eventually won their third straight AFC title.
In 2017, Reich was Philadelphia’s offensive coordinator when MVP candidate Carson Wentz tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee – an injury many expected to derail the Eagles’ title hopes. Instead, Nick Foles stepped in and led Philadelphia to its first title since 1960.
Then there was the seemingly made-for-TV script from two decades ago when a grocery store bagger-turned-quarterback Kurt Warner took over for the injured Trent Green and led the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title. Warner was the league’s MVP, too.
But Reich and the Colts know this season is not about the past. They must focus on adding their own, unique chapter to the underdog story to fill the hole in the middle of the locker room.
“I need to be Jacoby Brissett, just be myself,” he said when asked about permanently replacing his close friend. “It’s always been prepare like you’re the starter.”
Outside the locker room, many doubt Brissett can emerge as the next Foles, Warner or even Reich. Brissett went 4-11 in 2017, becoming the starter less than two weeks after Indy acquired him in a trade from New England, behind an offensive line that allowed the most sacks in the NFL that season.
Around the Colts’ complex, though, there are plenty of Brissett believers.
Reich noted Brissett has taken more than 1,200 snaps with the starting unit since April when offseason workouts started as Luck tried to recover from a lower left leg injury.
Plus, he’s working with a coach who has been down this road previously. Reich spent his first decade in the NFL playing behind a Hall of Famer, needing to be ready at every moment. It’s a conversation the two have had multiple times since Reich was hired 18½ months ago.
“From Day 1, I came in and watched all of Jacoby’s film and I said this guy is a top-20 quarterback, this guy is a starting quarterback in the NFL,” Reich said. “This guy is all in, he’s not just checking off boxes. He’s a great leader and I’m excited for him.”
Beckham’s getting ready
Odell Beckham Jr. is getting closer to being game ready.
With Cleveland’s season opener on Sept. 8 against Tennessee quickly approaching, Beckham, who has been slowed by a hip injury, returned to team drills during practice for the first time in nearly three weeks.
Before Monday’s workout, the three-time Pro Bowler had not been on the field with quarterback Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry and the rest of the starting offense since Aug. 6.
“He looked good,” coach Freddie Kitchens said afterward. “It’s good to have him back out. We’ve been working on the side with him with other things. It’s just the natural progression, so it was good to have him back.”
Beckham had been taking part only in individual drills while dealing with the hip issue, which the Browns have insisted was nothing too serious. He made sharp cuts, ran at full speed and made several catches during 11 on 11 drills. He also did extra work on the side with Mayfield as they try to establish chemistry to make up for lost time.
Beckham didn’t play in any of Cleveland’s first three exhibition games, and the star won’t play Thursday night when the Browns conclude the preseason at home against Detroit.
Chung waives appearance
New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung waived a court appearance in New Hampshire on a cocaine possession charge and a lawyer entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
A Belknap County grand jury indicted the 32-year-old Chung on Aug. 8. The documents filed mean that a scheduled arraignment won’t take place. A message was left for an attorney representing Chung.
Police in Meredith, New Hampshire, were called to Chung’s home June 25 “on a call for service” and obtained evidence leading to the felony drug charge, Belknap County attorney said.
Chung has not played in any preseason games and Coach Bill Belichick wouldn’t answer a question about his status last week.
Broncos cut veterans
The Denver Broncos created more than $4 million in salary cap space by cutting a trio of veterans, savings that could go toward a seasoned backup quarterback or middle linebacker should they seek to plug holes on their roster.
The Broncos jettisoned sixth-year defensive lineman Zach Kerr, 10th-year outside linebacker Dekoda Watson and fifth-year returner/receiver Nick Williams.
Kerr was due a $1.5 million salary this season with a cap hit of just over $2 million. Watson’s salary and cap hit were both $1.55 million and Williams recently signed a one-year, $805,000 contract that carried a cap hit of $645,000.
Henne breaks ankle
The Kansas City Chiefs lost backup quarterback Chad Henne (Michigan) to a broken ankle that will require surgery, and they quickly signed veteran Matt Moore to provide depth behind starter Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs have two other quarterbacks on their roster in Chase Litton and Kyle Shurmur, but neither of the developmental prospects has distinguished himself during the preseason.