INDIANAPOLIS – The most intense day at training camp will double as a dry run for what’s to come.
When Frank Reich takes his Indianapolis Colts to Lucas Oil Stadium Monday, it’ll be as close to a game-day experience as possible.
“We’re really going to treat that like it’s a game,’’ he said Sunday on a Zoom conference call. “I would anticipate our most intense and hardest practice.’’
Players will stroll out of the tunnel at 11:30 in the morning and stretch and do some individual work. At one point, they’ll return to the locker room, then bounce back out for introductions and the start of the 1 o’clock practice. A similar schedule is planned for a second downtown workout Saturday.
It all will transpire in an empty, otherwise-quiet Lucas Oil. The NFL allows noise to be piped through the PA system at an 80-decibel level, and Reich will make full use of that.
It’s all part of the not-normal-game-day experience that will take some getting used to.
“There is the factor what’s it going to feel like?’’ Reich said. “That’s the other reason why I think it’s important to go down to the stadium.
“That’ll be a good experience just to feel that.’’
The COVID-19 pandemic already has forced the NFL to cancel the Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend and the preseason schedule. It hasn’t impacted the regular-season schedule – Super Bowl champion Kansas City entertains Houston Sept. 10 at Arrowhead Stadium and the Colts open Sept. 13 in Jacksonville – but is impacting whether teams are able to play in front of fans, or in empty stadiums.
To date and as a result of state and local restrictions and reactions to COVID-19, 15 teams have announced they won’t have any fans at their stadiums at least for the start of the season. Five teams, including the Colts, are planning limited-capacity attendance, which is no more than 25% of the stadium capacity.
The Colts, Jaguars, Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking at game-day capacities of no more than 15-16,000. The Baltimore Ravens announced a capacity of 7,500 at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Las Vegas Raiders and Washington already have announced they’ll have no fans for the entire season. Atlanta, Houston, New England and Tennessee will have no fans at home fans at least through September. The Green Bay Packers are going without fans for their first two games at Lambeau Field while Denver’s Empower Field at Mile High will be empty for the Sept. 14 opener with the Titans.
Dallas remains one of those teams that has yet to announce its plans, but Jerry Jones’ preference is clear.
“The Dallas Cowboys plan on playing all our football games, and we plan on playing them in front of our fans,’’ he said as training camp opened. “Our stadium is well-suited to put together numbers of people that have elected to come and watch the Dallas Cowboys play.
The state of Texas has a current restriction of 50% capacity for sporting events, and the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium features 80,000 seats.
One thing to keep in mind when considering which teams are planning what level of stadium capacity: everything is fluid.
And that brings up one of the NFL’s pillars: competitive balance.
Imagine the Cowboys’ Oct. 25 trip to Washington’s FedEx Field . . . empty FedEx Field. And imagine the Nov. 26 rematch in Dallas in front of 40,000 fans.
That certainly could be the case with the Colts this season, but it isn’t something that Reich spends much time worrying about.
“My mindset is always a positive mindset,’’ he said. “I see everything as a competitive advantage for us. It’s just a matter of perspective.
“I’m going to find a way to look at it where it’s positive for us. I’m not worried about no fans versus 25% fans somewhere else. We’ve talked about those things and thought about it, but not worried about it.’’
Braden Smith returned to practice after missing several days with a foot injury. The starting right tackle was eased into drills with the first unit.
The Colts signed cornerback Andre Chachere and center Joey Hunt, and placed offensive tackle Andrew Donnal on the injured reserve list. Tight end Ian Bunting was waived-injured. If Bunting clears waivers, he reverts to IR.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.