Colts’ Chris Ballard: finding a left tackle is ‘not easiest position to find’


This is a 2020 photo of Chris Ballard of the Indianapolis Colts NFL football team. This image reflects the Indianapolis Colts active roster as of Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 when this image was taken. (AP Photo)

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INDIANAPOLIS – This is where the Indianapolis Colts stand after two days, three rounds and 104 selections in the NFL Draft: no closer to finding Anthony Castonzo’s successor.

“Finding a left tackle is not the easiest position to find,’’ Chris Ballard conceded during a late Friday Zoom conference call.

Apparently so.

By the time the Colts were on the clock in Thursday’s round 1 with the 21st overall selection, four tackles had been yanked off the board. Another intriguing prospect still was there – Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw – but Ballard opted to address a needy pass rush with Michigan’s Kwity Paye. Two picks later, Darrisaw went to the Minnesota Vikings.

Friday, the Colts held the 22nd pick of round 2, 54th overall. Their options diminished as the round unfolded. Six tackles were selected ahead of them, including two in the three preceding slots (Texas’ Sam Cosmi, 51st to Washington and North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz, 53rd to Tennessee).

Ballard didn’t flinch. Committed to remaining robust on the defensive line, he went with Vanderbilt end Dayo Odeyingbo, a physical, versatile prospect who’s on the mend after tearing an Achilles tendon in late January.

“We understand how important the offensive line is,’’ Ballard said. “We had some guys go right in front of us and we had, to be honest with you, Dayo ranked higher. You just can’t force it.

“We’ve still got four more picks . . . and then we’ve got until September. So we’ll continue to work through it.’’

That process includes re-visiting the available veteran free agents – Alejandro Villanueva, Eric Fisher (who’s on the mend from a torn Achilles in January), Russell Okung, Jason Peters, etc. – and determining whether Castonzo’s replacement already is in the building.

One option Ballard nixed was moving three-time All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson or right tackle Braden Smith to left tackle.

“Right now we’d probably leave the four guys alone,’’ he said. “They’ve all produced at a really high level, and we’ll work from there.’’

It’s work that must be handled successfully. Ballard’s most significant offseason move was acquiring quarterback Carson Wentz in a trade with Philadelphia. Wentz endured an awful season in 2020, in part because the Eagles couldn’t protect him. He suffered a league-high 50 sacks despite missing the final four games.

The Colts signed two veterans to one-year contracts in March: Sam Tevi and Julién Davenport. Tevi started 44 of 58 games in four years with the Los Angeles Chargers while Davenport started 28 of 51 games while splitting four seasons with Houston and Miami. Davenport, though, started only one game and played sparingly last season with the Dolphins.

Each had been considered depth additions.

Ballard noted Tevi has “played a lot of football and he’s played winning football. So we’ll see as we go forward.

“We’ll create competition. We’ll continue to look at the market. We’ll continue to look in the draft and we’ll create competition and we’ll get the best five guys on the field that will play winning football.’’

Ballard emphasized finding a suitable left tackle is one of the most difficult positional challenges, along with quarterback, edge pass rusher and cornerback.

“Just because you plug a name in there doesn’t always make it the right answer,’’ he said. “You just have to continue to draft and develop and get a little luck along the way.

“Out staff does a heck of a job coaching these players up. I have a lot of faith in them, so we’ll continue to do that.’’

Odeyingbo ‘unique,’ on the mend

Odeyingbo is three months into his rehab after tearing an Achilles tendon in late-January.

“There’s no timeline on when he’s going to be ready,’’ Ballard said. “We’ll let the young man get healthy and when he’s ready to go, he’ll go.’’

Odeyingbo’s talent and upside were too compelling to ignore.

“We thought he was worth the risk,’’ Ballard said. “This kid is a unique, unique talent. We would have considered him in the first round if he hadn’t got injured and I think a lot of teams would have.

“To be honest with you, I was kind of sweating it out at where we were picking if we were going to be able to get him because we had kind of targeted him. I’m pretty sure he would have gone pretty quickly after us.’’

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Colts used their first two picks on defensive linemen for just the second time in the common draft era. The only other occasion: 2002 when they selected end Dwight Freeney in round 1 and tackle Larry Tripplett in round 2.

Adios Houston

There had been speculation the Colts might re-sign Justin Houston if they were unable to find viable alternatives in the draft. He remains unsigned after two productive seasons in Indy (19 sacks in 36 games).

“I love Justin,’’ Ballard said, “but we have a pretty full room at this time.’’

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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