INDIANAPOLIS – Anthony Castonzo has always been the studious type.
A Rhodes Scholar nominee, he graduated from Boston College with a degree in biochemistry. And after watching former teammates in high school (Jordin Hood) and college (Mark Herzlich) win personal battles with cancer, he told reporters in 2011 at the NFL Scouting Combine he’d one day join the fight to cure the disease.
That challenge will remain on hold after Castonzo signed a two-year contract extension reportedly worth $33 million this offseason to continue playing left tackle for the Indianapolis Colts.
But it should come as little surprise the 31-year-old deep thinker did his homework before deciding not to opt out of the first NFL season being played during a global pandemic.
“I took a hard look at the possibility of opting out,” Castonzo said during a Zoom call this week. “Obviously, you want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. But after seeing all of the precautions that are in place and weighing things out, it made sense to go forward with the season and see what happens.
“We’ve got a good team, and it’s an exciting season. So that’s something I want to be a part of.”
It promises to be quite an experiment.
Less than two weeks into the Major League Baseball season, two teams already have been held out of competition because of the novel coronavirus. The Miami Marlins returned to play Tuesday after being sidelined for more than a week after 18 players reportedly tested positive for the virus. The St. Louis Cardinals lost a weekend series with the Milwaukee Brewers and a four-game home-and-home set with the Detroit Tigers after seven players reportedly tested positive. The Cardinals hope to be back on the field Friday against the rival Chicago Cubs.
Similar disruptions appear inevitable when the NFL regular season begins in September. The league could not play in a bubble as the NBA and NHL have chosen to do because of the sheer size of rosters, coaching staffs and other organizational support.
That puts an onus on the players to take personal responsibility to do all they can to keep the virus out of the locker room.
In Indianapolis, that process currently includes daily testing, socially distanced meeting rooms, mandatory masks inside the facility and plexiglass dividers between lockers.
Castonzo has faith in the protocols set in place and said it’s up to he and his teammates to abide by them.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can in the building, but I think the biggest thing is guys kind of doing what they have to outside of the building,” Castonzo said. “So people have to do what we’re supposed to do, do what the CDC is telling us to do and limit risk outside of the building so this building can remain that safe zone that it is and we can move forward with the season.”
Third-year linebacker Skai Moore became the first Colts player to publicly opt out of the 2020 season Tuesday.
The 25-year-old undrafted free agent out of South Carolina played in just one game last season, appearing on seven snaps on special teams. He started the 2018 season opener in place of injured middle linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. and finished with four tackles in nine total appearances as a rookie.
Moore was expected to compete for a spot on the roster as a special teams contributor.
Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich said last week he would encourage any player considering the choice to opt out to make the most informed decision possible.
“You just address that and make sure you have all the information, get good information, don’t rush into a decision,” Reich said. “After talking that through with all of the proper medical people, understanding the risks, and then make an informed decision. If that is the best decision for you and your family, then we will respect that.”
The deadline for players to opt out is 4 p.m. Thursday.
With no preseason games and fewer training camp practices, defenses will be challenged this summer to physically prepare for the regular season.
Tackling typically is sloppier during the first two weeks of the preseason, and it is going to be even more difficult this year to replicate live game reps.
Still, Colts all-pro linebacker Darius Leonard isn’t looking to make excuses.
“I know that Coach Frank probably will do a lot of competitive live things (in practice),” Leonard said. “So that will give us the opportunity to get going. There is a lot of film study, a lot of technique things that you have to do. You have to know how to tackle a guy.
“You’ve been playing football – for me, probably 15, 16 years now. So some things are muscle memory. You’re going to miss tackles, but you have to learn from it and just keep going.”