INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – There were no Josh McDaniels questions, no requests for the latest Andrew Luck update and no one wondering if – finally for cryin’ out loud – the offensive line will really, really, really be fixed.
Normalcy, or whatever qualifies as normalcy in the chaotic NFL universe, had returned.
And that surprised Chris Ballard as he walked away from the podium in Hall K at the Indiana Convention Center.
“Not one Luck question,” he said, breaking into laughter. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Twelve months earlier, Ballard’s world was spinning at a dizzying rate, and there were more than a few Andrew Luck questions.
The first team under his direct control was coming off a 4-12 season, the head coach he thought he had (McDaniels) still was in New England and his for-real head coach (Frank Reich) had been on the job for about two weeks. The quarterback he inherited as a first-time general manager (Luck) in January 2017 had yet to pick up a football in his second stint at rehabilitating his damaged and surgically-repaired right shoulder.
All of that had to seem like ancient history as Ballard offered a State of the Indianapolis Colts Wednesday afternoon during a break from the NFL Scouting Combine.
“I don’t know. I’ve gotten so used to the chaos and dysfunction,” he said.
Ballard’s laughed echoed through the spacious hall, and then he addressed the What a difference a year makes? issue.
“It’s kind of nice to have some consistency, not only from a coaching standpoint, (but) from a scouting standpoint (and) the roster’s starting to get more stable,’’ he said. “Now we can really start digging into how do we improve and get better.”
Reich could appreciate the return to normalcy notion as well. Again, this time last year he still was coming to grips with being the man who replaced the man everyone thought would be the Colts’ latest head coach.
“It didn’t seem like there was anything normal about it last year,” Reich said. “This year, it just feels very different, feels very good. I just can’t even tell you how much I appreciate working with Chris and how much I learned from him.”
“For me, coming into that situation, to work with someone like Chris, that was about as good as it could get for me. And the relationship and the trust that we’ve built I think has been pretty special.”
Instead of building their relationship, Ballard and Reich are better able to focus on building their roster and returning the Colts to prominence. Instead of wondering – hoping – if Andrew Luck could actually throw a regulation football, make a full recovery in time for the season opener and be the catalyst for that return to prominence, they’re in the midst of an offseason aimed at reinforcing Luck’s supporting cast.
That includes evaluating the record-337 players at the Combine, dealing with free agency, which gets underway March 13, and formulating a plan for the April 25-27 NFL Draft. The Colts have nine picks, including three in the top 59.
No matter the adversity that’s been faced and overcome, and the optimism rooted in last season’s renaissance – a 10-6 record, a wild-card playoff berth and a first-round win at Houston before being smacked down at Kansas City – Ballard and Reich are driven by a singular commitment.
“Our mission will never change,” Ballard said. “We will continue to push to get better each and every day. That’s our mantra.”
Ballard made it clear the disappointment of being overwhelmed by the Chiefs in the AFC Divisional round – 31-13, and it really wasn’t that close – didn’t tarnish his belief in his team.
“Pretty good football team,” he said. “I’m not going to let one game against what I thought was a really good football team (change that). Are we where we need to be yet from a talent perspective? No, we’re not. I’m not going to sit here and blow smoke up y’all and make you think we are.”
“We have work to do. But we are better, and we are a good football team. Absolutely we are. I’m pretty confident in our ability to go and find answers.”
In general, the Colts need to find a top-level pass rusher, would like to add another play-making wideout to take some of the load off T.Y. Hilton and are committed to adding depth in the secondary.
A few tidbits from Ballard’s give-and-take with the media:
The veteran tight end underwent surgery to address a hip injury suffered in week 2 at Washington.
“Surgery was good. He’s rehabbing good,” Ballard said.
Doyle isn’t expected to participate in any of the Colts’ offseason work, but should be back for the start of training camp in late July.
The Cathedral H.S. standout also sustained a lacerated kidney in week 12 against Miami that required surgery.
“Kidney is good,” Ballard said. “We’re in good shape.”
Colts’ free agents:
Ballard already has locked up placekicker Adam Vinatieri (a one-year, $3.825 million contract), guard Mark Glowinski (three years, $18 million) and tight end Ross Travis (one year, value unknown). It’s uncertain if any more deals will be struck before free agency opens.
Players with expiring contracts include safety Clayton Geathers, cornerback Pierre Desir and wideout Dontrelle Inman. Ballard plans on meeting with several agents this week.
“Do we want Clayton back? Yes, we want Clayton back,” he said. “We’ll have some good talks with his agent this week.”
Ballard indicated Desir and Inman will test their value on the open market.
“We’re going to visit their agents,” he said. “We like them, absolutely. They were great contributors to our team this year.”
“Would we like to have them back? Yeah. Does that mean necessarily they will be back? Not necessarily.”
Value of draft picks:
The Colts have nine overall picks in the April draft after collecting 11 in the 2018 draft. Ballard was asked if he’s willing to trade away draft picks to acquire free-agent talent or move up in the draft.
“I like them picks,” he said with a smile. “I think it just depends. On draft day, you formulate a plan of who you have targeted, where you can get them. Do we have to move up or can we move back?”
“I’ve always been under the premise and how I was taught in this league, the more picks you have, the more darts you have to at the draft board, the more chance you have to hit on players.”
“I think we still need to continue to add young talent. We like having draft picks.”
Adding a player to the roster that might bring baggage:
Ballard considers it a case-by-case issue.
“It depends on how big the risk, who the player is, what are the player’s motives that’s coming in the building,” he said. “I’ve talked about this ad nauseam. We have a very strict criteria we want to bring in.”
“We want players that want to get better, want to be great, want to be part of the team, that are willing to sacrifice sometimes their individual stats for the betterment of winning and being a good teammate.”
“If they fit into that criteria, absolutely they’ll fit in. But it is going to be a strict criteria, and I think the locker room is looking at every moment who you bring in.’’
Ballard mentioned last month he would reluctantly consider trading his backup quarterback, if the price and trading partner were right. That hasn’t changed, but a possible trading partner has yet to come forward.
“I haven’t gotten any calls on Jacoby. It’s still early,” Ballard said. “Saying that, it would take a lot to pry him out. I know his value to us. I think Frank and our coaching staff would echo the same sentiments.”