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That’s a wrap; Colts convinced they’re ‘much better’ after draft . . . and with Andrew Luck returning

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CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 02: Nyheim Hines #7 and teammate Garrett Bradbury #65 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack celebrate after Hines scores a touchdown against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 2, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Everyone in a position of authority with the Indianapolis Colts was in agreement Saturday night regarding the status of the franchise now that the NFL draft was in their rearview mirror.

Better. Much better, in fact. And when you toss Andrew Luck into the mix, well, the sky’s the limit.

“Exciting how much better this football team is right now than it was just some 48 hours ago,’’ owner Jim Irsay said.

“Good weekend for us,’’ general manager Chris Ballard added. “Excited about the players we got. We added some explosive athletes offensively and defensively.

“We think they can help us going forward.’’

Five picks in the first two rounds added two top-drawer guards (Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith), an outside linebacker (Darius Leonard) and a pair of defensive ends (Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis).

The focus swung to the skill positions Saturday: running backs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, and wideouts Deon Cain and Reece Fountain. Ballard used the last two of his 11 picks – the most by the Colts since the draft went to a seven-round format in 1994 – on inside linebackers Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin.

“The more picks you have, the more shots at the dartboard you have,’’ Ballard said. “It allows you, especially in the late rounds, to really take a shot at some guys with some traits that you like. We’ll always try to acquire as many picks as we can get.’’

Irsay’s optimism partially was rooted in the draft haul by Ballard, coach Frank Reich and the team’s personnel staff, led by Nelson. He compares the Notre Dame guard, taken 6th overall, with Hall of Famers John Hannah and Anthony Munoz.

“He’s like a computer simulation what an O-lineman should be,’’ he said.

But hyping Irsay’s optimism for what’s ahead is the expected return of Luck, who missed the 2017 season with his right shoulder issues.

“If Andrew Luck is healthy, and we think he will be, we’re going to have a pretty formidable football team. That’s the bottom line,’’ he said.

Irsay took Luck’s presence several steps higher. He called him “a magic man,’’ a rare QB talented enough to compensate for shortcomings at other positions.

“There’s only a few magic men,’’ Irsay said. “ If he’s healthy and he’s back, he makes up for a lot of deficiencies.

“He’s special. You guys have seen it.’’

Irsay is eager for his franchise to recapture the golden decade of the early 2002 when 12-win seasons and playoff berths were the norm. He got a glimpse of that during Luck’s first three years when the first overall pick in the 2012 draft led the Colts to three consecutive 11-5 records and playoff berths.

The Colts currently are mired in a three-year funk during which they’ve failed to make the playoffs or post a winning record. The last time they went four consecutive seasons without a winning record: 1978-86.

“We had an era that started . . . (the) Andrew Luck era,’’ Irsay said. “You’re always going to be talking about your franchise quarterback when he’s got the excellence Andrew brings. It was put on hold for a second and it was rolling.

“He is young and we believe he can play for at least (another) decade.’’


Anderson sent to Jets

The Colts’ transition from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 led Saturday’s trade of defensive end Henry Anderson to the New York Jets for the Jets’ seventh-round draft pick. That pick ended up being Franklin.

“Scheme fit,’’ Ballard explained. “Look, a great Colt. The injuries were unfortunate for Henry, kind of sidelined him the last few years. But Henry Anderson is a first-class human being, a great kid and we wish him the best.

“But it’s a better scheme fit in New York than he was here.’’


J.T. Barrett in for tryout

Former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett has been invited to participate on a tryout basis for the Colts’ upcoming rookie minicamp. He has not signed a contract.

“J.T. Barrett’s had a tremendous career at Ohio State, tremendous leader,’’ Ballard said. “It will be tremendous to get him in here and watch him work and see where it goes from there.’’


You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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