INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Even in the nomadic NFL, this qualifies as a deviation from the norm.
The Indianapolis Colts aren’t in the midst of a transition – from Ryan Grigson to Chris Ballard – as much as they’re in full-blown transformation mode. Change was expected and desperately needed in January after a tradition-rich franchise missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.
The last time the Colts missed the playoffs three straight years: 1992-94.
But change to this extent? Did Ballard envision his current 53-man active roster featuring 26 first-time Colts?
“Yes, I did,’’ he said Monday. “We had 32 (new players) our first year in Kansas City.’’
It’s worth noting the Colts’ roster turnover was more pronounced in 2012 when a 2-14 finish the previous season led to a complete reboot. Owner Jim Irsay fired Bill Polian and coach Jim Caldwell, replacing them with Grigson and Chuck Pagano. Their opening-day roster included 30 new faces led by rookies/future cornerstones Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton.
At issue, though, is whether a revamped roster is a better roster.
“We’re younger,’’ Ballard said. “And I do think we’ve upgraded the roster. Are we where we want to be? Not yet. Not yet.
“But I think if you ask every team in the league, every team in the league is going to be monitoring, trying to get better, trying to upgrade at certain positions. That’s a constant, 365-day-a-year job.’’
In the last three days, Ballard has claimed five players off waivers and traded 2015 first-round draft pick Phillip Dorsett to New England for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Monday, he placed tight end Erik Swoope on the injured reserve list and re-signed tight end Brandon Williams.
Grigson always was tweaking the bottom of the roster.
Ballard is chiseling away at virtually every level.
“We have our scouts monitor every team in the league,’’ he said. “I think they do a great job. We (scout) every team during the preseason. They’re looking for teams that have depth and guys that will get cut and guys that are getting traded.’’
At some point, the possibility of acquiring Brissett from the Patriots arose.
“We thought we had a chance to acquire a young quarterback that we have under contract for three years that’s going to be a very good No. 2 quarterback you can win with when he has to play,’’ Ballard said. “It’s long-term thinking.’’
The reason to pull the trigger on the trade? Had the Colts’ patience with Dorsett run out?
“Jacoby Brissett,’’ Ballard said. “We weren’t actively trying to trade Phillip. We had calls about Phillip, but Jacoby Brissett was the best option.’’
While virtually every move made by Ballard has the long-term health of the franchise in mind, it’s fair to wonder about the Colts’ short-term viability.
When they open the season Sunday against the Rams in Los Angeles, they’ll be without three cornerstone players: Luck (shoulder), center Ryan Kelly (broken foot) and cornerback Vontae Davis (groin). Each is expected to miss multiple games.
Of the 11 rookies to make the final cut, significant contributions are expected from safety Malik Hooker and cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston. Wilson might start opposite Rashaan Melvin while Davis mends with Hairston handling the nickel corner duties.
Deyshawn Bond, an undrafted rookie and Warren Central High School product, will start at center until Kelly returns.
The cornerback room also includes two players claimed off waivers: Kenny Moore, an undrafted rookie, and Pierre Desir, who has appeared in 24 games with seven starts.
Pagano’s advice to the young DBs?
“This is for real and they count now,’’ he said. “It stinks not having Vontae out there. He’s our No. 1 corner. He was having a great camp, as good as he’s had since I’ve been here.
“Injuries happen. We’ve got guys in here – some who are really young, some that are new – and that’s our job, my job . . . to get them ready to play winning football.’’
The Colts need to avoid a fourth consecutive 0-2 start and the early portion of the schedule appeared conducive to a faster start. After the Rams (4-12 in 2016), they’re home against the Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1) and Cleveland (1-15). A road trip to Seattle (10-5-1) is followed by a home meeting with San Francisco (2-14).
The injuries make it difficult to project anything.
Ballard refuses to look past week 1, any further than the Rams. It’s an approach he adopted while working with Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
“I go week-to-week,’’ he said. “That’s just the way I roll. Win or lose on Sunday, you’ve got to reboot and get to Monday and start playing again. And it’s 0-0 every week in my mind.
“After every season, it starts over. I think you make a mistake organizationally land for your football team, even if you win the Super Bowl, even if you’re the best team in the NFL, you have to start over. That’s my viewpoint.
“No, man, we’re going out there and we’re trying to win. And we’re starting with the Rams. We’ll put our best effort forward and try and go get us a win. And then we’ll start over again on Monday.’’