Colts general manager Chris Ballard hasn’t talked much since training camp began. This isn’t surprising, because now that practices are on, Frank Reich is stepping more into the spotlight as the face of the organization to the fans.
Ballard made an appearance on 1070 The Fan today and he certainly had some interesting things to say, and I want to dig in on some of them.
First Ballard was asked about the influx of athletic young talent and how it might affect other established guys on the roster, specifically Antonio Morrison. Ballard immediately made his affinity toward Morrison known. He talked about Frank Gore telling him before he left to never undervalue a hard-working player, and that Morrison is exactly that.
Ballard admitted that he doesn’t have the speed the other guys do, but brings a physicality to the game that is hard to overlook. To me that strikes me as paying lip service to Morrison. They’ve talked all offseason about speed on the defense, and so to throw that mantra out here seems like Ballard just not burying one of his players.
Braden Smith at tackle?
Next he talked a bit about how good Quenton Nelson has looked, and more interesting, about Braden Smith. He specifically said, “We’ve asked Braden to play right tackle.” Take this comment how you will. Smith has played at right tackle during some practices, and there wasn’t great context for this statement, so it isn’t clear whether Ballard is saying this is something Smith will do going forward, or just that they’ve asked him to do it as a fill in.
If the goal is to move Smith to tackle more permanently, that is disconcerting. He isn’t ideally suited to play tackle, and it is hard to believe that would be the aim. However, if he is simply working out of that spot to be a more versatile player, I suppose that could be useful. Hopefully Ballard was speaking more to Smith’s versatility than to the organization’s plans for him.
Hamstrings not helmets
Ballard also spoke briefly about the new helmet use rule and echoed the statements made by defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. He talked about hamstring tackling being the technique they’ve been coaching and that they don’t expect to have too many issues with this rule change. It was nice to hear the coaches are in lockstep with the general manager. To me, this just indicates an organization that from top to bottom knows how they’ll handle things and works well together.
On Luck’s progress
When asked about Andrew Luck, Ballard practically gushed. He talked about how great Luck’s accuracy, and ball placement are, and that he thinks they’re nearly back at top level. He did say that there is room to improve and grow in terms of arm strength, but is very pleased with how Luck has progressed. That is pretty well in line with everyone who has seen Luck throwing. It must be a major source of relief to have your star quarterback in action and be preparing to see the end of the seemingly limitless stream of Luck/shoulder questions.
His view of the running back situation
When he was asked about the running backs, he again seemed optimistic. He talked about how well Marlon Mack looks and how telling it was that he toughed out last year to learn and grow as a player. He also mentioned how well Wilkins performed, specifically referencing his work in goal line situations.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Wilkins get Turbin’s reps during his suspension, and he might not give them back if he performs well. As we have seen throughout camp, Ballard envisions Nyheim Hines as a gadget guy who can operate all over the field. That’s precisely how he has been used in camp, and I expect that will continue.
On the failings of the offensive line
When talking about the offensive line issues of last season Ballard was quick to take responsibility for their failings. He specifically said about them:
“I screwed that up last year. That’s on me.”
This was with regard to not providing enough depth and competition on the line to withstand injuries. He certainly didn’t make that same mistake twice, bringing in talent both in free agency and the draft to rectify that oversight. Personally, I find it refreshing that we have a GM who both admits his errors, and learns from them.
The most interesting thing to me about this interview was that Ballard has great perspective. He is very optimistic about this team’s ability to grow into a solid group. However, he has no illusions that the job is done. He again reiterated stacking up great drafts on one another. He emphasized the value of adding guys that can build a winning culture and teach and guide the new players in that winning mentality.
Hearing him talk about the team this way has always been what makes me sure he understands what it takes to build a consistent winner. I don’t necessarily always agree with his methods, but I believe he has the right vision for this team to make it a perennial contender.