During his introductory press conference, new Colts general manager Chris Ballard didn’t really offer a ton of insight as to where the big needs on the Colts roster. He understandably hadn’t gotten much time to evaluate the roster and review the film yet by that point, but now a week later he’s had a chance to get a better idea of the roster.
“So it took me about three days to get my feet on the ground and figure out what direction we really needed to go, but once I got those three days in I just started working, getting everything organized, and working going forward,” Ballard told 1070 the Fan’s JMV yesterday in a terrific radio interview.
Though it’s been just over a week, Ballard has had enough time to start to understand the task in front of him: build a team around Andrew Luck.
“Well, I mean we’ve got some work defensively that we need to do, and we’ll get that done,” he said of the Colts’ roster. “I think we’ve got a pretty special player at the quarterback position but we’ve got to help him. And we’ve got to make sure we get him protected and give him enough weapons to be successful.”
Defensively, the Colts certainly have a lot of work to do - and Ballard understands that. For him, it starts in the trenches, both offensively and defensively.
“It’s always about your fronts,” Ballard said, asked about this year’s Super Bowl. “So look, when you have a good quarterback, and you can have a good offensive and defensive line, you’ve got a chance to win. And if that defensive line can get after the quarterback, especially with four people - I mean, y’all lived it. Y’all lived it for a long time here in Indy when you had [Dwight] Freeney and [Robert] Mathis coming off the edge when Tony [Dungy] was the head coach. That makes all the difference in the world and covers up a lot of your mistakes in the back end.”
Ballard’s approach really seems quite straight-forward, in a sense: he’s going to focus on the offensive and defensive fronts. First of all, Ballard emphasized the value of having guys who can get after the passer in the base defense without having to send extra guys. Contrast that with what the Colts have become, and you’ll see a team that has had to rely on blitzes to try to generate pressure. In Ballard’s vision, that wouldn’t have to be the case. Furthermore, he understands that having good pass rushers to get after the quarterback can cover over other problems with the defense, which makes it understandable why that figures to be such a high priority.
But that will always be a priority to Ballard. As long as he’s the GM, expect him to always be looking to have the best offensive and defensive fronts as possible and they will always be potential targets.
“I promise you, that will always be my mindset,” he said. “That is something that I’ll always keep my eye on, and you’ve always got to be trying to acquire talent at those positions.”
Often times the linebackers are grouped into the defensive front category too, and the Colts also have their work cut out for them there as all four linebacker spots could stand to be upgraded. Ballard also explained what he looks for in linebackers.
“Well look, I’m a height, weight, and speed guy, without question, and that’s kind of what we built in Kansas City,” he said. “We had a few pieces left over that were really good pieces. But we want, hey look, it’s a passing league. At the end of the day, it’s a passing league. So you’ve got to be able to, one, as a linebacker, an inside backer, play in space, and be able to play on third down, and play versus the pass. And then on the edge, you’ve got to be able to rush the passer. I mean, you’ve got to be able to rush the passer.”
It’s a small thing, but I’m sure Colts fans will feel relieved hearing the team’s leadership openly admit that it’s a passing league (and therefore that stopping the pass needs to be a priority) rather than the ‘run the ball and stop the run’ narrative that we’ve heard for years. At the very least, Ballard is open about the reality of the NFL and realizing that it will impact the type of linebackers the Colts bring in. So for inside linebackers, Ballard is looking for guys who can play in space, play on third down, and play against the pass. For outside linebackers, Ballard is looking for guys who can rush the passer.
On the other side of the football is quarterback Andrew Luck, the team’s best player and the franchise quarterback they will build around. Chris Ballard got a chance to see first-hand how good Luck can be, though it’s a memory he’d rather forget.
He was with the Chiefs when Luck mounted an insane comeback to win that thrilling playoff game a few years ago, and he still remembers it.
“Well unfortunately I had to sit through that 45-44 game and watch him play brilliantly, and he was unbelievable that day,” Ballard said when asked about his thoughts on Andrew Luck. “Look, I said it earlier: it’s never about one guy, and it never will be about one guy. We’ve got to help Andrew, and we will. Even last night [in the Super Bowl] when you look at those two quarterbacks, they had some pieces around them that helped them win. It wasn’t just about them.”
The idea of helping Andrew Luck came up a couple of times in Ballard’s press conference, and it’s clear that will be a priority. His emphasis of it not being all about Luck actually seems to be in many ways a sort of mission statement moving forward: he wants to surround Luck with enough talent that the quarterback doesn’t have to do everything himself. Part of that means addressing Luck’s offensive line.
“I think he’s got some good pieces with [Anthony] Castonzo and [Jack] Mewhort and [Ryan] Kelly,” Ballard said. “We’ve got to get the right side solidified but we’ve got some young players in [Joe] Haeg and [Le’Raven] Clark that I think we can build upon. But it’s definitely an area that we’ll definitely keep our eye on going forward, between free agency and the draft.”
This was particularly interesting to me, because a big question has been about what Ballard thinks of some of the young pieces up front. Many of the guys were Ryan Grigson project players (like Denzelle Good), and there’s no reason to think that Ballard will be committed to each one of those guys. So it will be interesting to see his thoughts, but he was open about needing to shore up the right side of the line and about it being an area the Colts will monitor in free agency and the draft.
Ballard also spoke about a few other interesting things pertaining to his philosophy of evaluating players. He mentioned that most of their college scouting will happen at the D1 level since that’s where most of the NFL talent is, but that they’ll be looking for those exceptions too. And he spoke about the Chiefs’ decision to draft Tyreek Hill despite his domestic violence history, saying that to make a decision like that the entire organization must be on board, from the ownership to the coaches to the scouting staff to even the marketing department to understand how it will affect marketing. It sounds like Ballard isn’t opposed to taking guys with character concerns, but that it will need to be something the whole organization agrees on.
Overall, it was a very interesting interview with the Colts’ new general manager that gave him a chance to not only talk about who he is and what he’s learned over the years but also give his initial opinions on the Colts’ roster and share some philosophy that might give an indication on how he’ll approach things with the Colts.