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NFL Combine

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INDIANAPOLISCombine No. 8 has greeted Colts general manager Chris Ballard.

Attached to the building his team calls home on Sundays in the fall, Ballard met the media on Wednesday during his annual NFL Combine press conference.

What were some of the highlights from Ballard’s session?


On if WR-Michael Pittman Jr. will be with the Colts in September: “Yes.”

Bowen’s Thoughts: The question to Chris Ballard focused on if Pittman Jr. will stay with the Colts, whether by use of the franchise tag or a long-term deal. While the ‘how’ of MPJ staying in Indy remains to be seen, Ballard once again offered strong conviction that No. 11 will still be with the Colts in 2024 (and potentially beyond). Remaining questions for this situation now focuses on the franchise tag window closing on Tuesday (March 5). Will the Colts tag MPJ if a long-term deal hasn’t been reached by Tuesday? Again, Ballard loves how MPJ is wired, and not every GM feels that way about their top WR. The goal remains to come to a long-term deal with MPJ, but that time is now ticking less than a week before a franchise tag decision is needed.


On QB-Anthony Richardson’s rehab: “Really happy with where he’s at. He started throwing and he’s on a rehab program. I lived through the last one (Andrew Luck) and I learned a lot of lessons living through the last one. Forgive me for being a little cautious, and I know Anthony has made some statements that it’s important to be ahead of schedule well we are here to pull the reigns to make sure we don’t get too far ahead of schedule and we are staying with whatever the doctors are telling us. But he’s in good shape. He’s throwing. He’s got a good throwing program, got good people working with him. So I’m encouraged about where he’s at and where he’s going. We’ll go from there.”

Bowen’s Thoughts: Honestly, the first *somewhat* important date for Richardson this offseason is around mid-May. That’s when the team will begin their OTA sessions, with around a dozen spring practices from mid-May to mid-June serving as some important on-field teamwork for Richardson to be participating in. The fact that he’s already throwing in February is a good sign for Richardson’s activity this offseason. Having said that, Ballard is spot on not being worried about Richardson ‘ahead of schedule’ this time of year. The Colts have a lot of time between now and when you know what gets real in September.


On free agent CB-Kenny Moore: “I thought Kenny Moore was a really good vet player, had a good year. We’d like to have him back. We’ll see how it work outs in free agency.”

Bowen’s Thoughts: Ballard wouldn’t commit to the need to add a veteran cornerback this offseason to balance out the youth at that position. The GM continues to be outspoken about his appreciation for Moore (“special human being”), and the value that he has to the Colts defense. Ballard did commend rookie Jaylon Jones for the weekly fight he gave as a 7th round pick, while also stressing the need for JuJu Brents to stay healthy.


On the free agency approach: “I mean look, Everybody gets excited for that week and stamps a future Super Bowl winner off of that and but what you’re seeing is alright, so you got free agency and you got the A level players but what happens with them they get tagged. Alright, so now you got the next level one, that you ended up paying A money. If there’s one on the market that we think fits us and he and look it takes two shots here. I mean, there’s times you’ll make an offer a big offer to a player and you just don’t get it. He goes somewhere else. That’s part of it. We’ll be as aggressive as we need to be when we think we need to.”

Bowen’s Thoughts: This rhetoric has become pretty common in the Ballard era. He’s not a fan of the market that is free agency and hesitant to deviate from the values his staff puts on guys. Ballard did add free agency is a spot to supplement positions that might not have as much depth in the draft. The early draft depth chatter includes some weaker spots at running back, tight end and linebacker. Given this Ballard statement, should we again expect a pretty quiet start to free agency for the Colts?


On working with a rookie contract quarterback: “You want to give him as much as you can to be successful. Which one, I think you got to make sure he’s protected. You know my philosophy on that—you have to make sure your quarterback, especially a young quarterback, make sure he’s protected and you want to put enough good players around him to be successful, whether that comes through free agency or the draft.”

Bowen’s Thoughts: On paper, there’s not an obvious need along the offensive line. They have no free agents among their main guys. And the offensive line certainly took a step forward from their play last year. Do we see the Colts dip into that with a notable off-season resource in the coming months?


On the WR draft depth: “It’s good. Yeah, a lot of depth at every level as a matter of fact. It’s strong. It’s a really strong class. I don’t know if you see them as strong as this, but I compare it almost like when Pitt (Michael Pittman Jr.) came (in 2020). That year was really good and (Justin) Jefferson and (Brandon) Aiyuk and Pitt in the upper part of the draft. I think CeeDee Lamb was in that draft. It’s comparable.”

Bowen’s Thoughts: The most ‘self blame’ we heard from Ballard on Wednesday was in regards to not helping Reggie Wayne and the offensive staff enough when it came to wide receiver depth. Ballard said he’s got to do a better job of helping the coaching staff out there, and obviously spoke extremely high on this year’s wideout draft class. Keep this in mind when the draft rolls around.


On the TE room: “I think their skillsets are kind of different. Do we have an elite tight end like a Kelce? No. But what we have is a good room, with some pretty good players that all have a different skillset from Mo Alie-Cox to what (Kylen) Granson brings. We thought (Will) Mallory offered something different. Not having Jelani Woods, who we had big hopes for with him being hurt all year, this new staff doesn’t even know who he is. They haven’t had a chance to really work with him. And we think he has some upside. We do like the room. We like what it has to offer. They’re all a little different. The hardest guy to find is the blocker. I know we all pay attention to the ‘F’ and you all want the dynamic playmaker but the hardest guy to find is the guy that can block on the edge.”

Bowen’s Thoughts: Ballard’s views on the tight end position is something I wanted to hear this week. As expected, Ballard is a little bit more bullish on this group than the outside narrative. Ballard has spent 4 notable picks on tight ends in the last 3 drafts (3rd round-Jelani Woods, 4th round-Kylen Granson, 5th round-Will Mallory, 6th round-Drew Ogletree), so it’s not like he has ignored the position. But the group certainly lacks that true No. 1 guy. Maybe Brock Bowers will fall into a different category, but I don’t think Ballard is worried too much about addressing tight end in a serious manner this offseason.


On Jim Irsay: “We stay in touch. This is about all I’m going to say on this. He is progressing well. We are talking. Shane and I have talked to him multiple times and we keep him abreast of anything. At the end of the day, we’re not going to do anything without his approval. So we will keep in in the loop. You know him. He wants to know. He loves his team. He’s doing well. He’s getting better.”

Bowen’s Thoughts: This Irsay update from Ballard offered much more than the ‘stable’ description the Colts GM gave back at his season-ending presser. Even though the Combine is here in Indianapolis, Irsay typically keeps a low profile this week. Normally, Irsay makes public/media appearances in the spring at the League’s Annual Meetings (which is late March in Orlando) and on the final day of draft (Day 3 is April 27). So those are some dates to keep an eye on in terms of when Irsay is usually having more of a public presence.


On the backup QB position: “When the backup quarterback usually goes in, it leads to disaster. So you don’t want necessarily the same skill set, but a guy your staff feels like they can win with. That to me is the key. I think Gardner did about as well as you could do coming in. Give Shane and his staff a lot of credit. Give Gardner a lot of credit for coming in and playing winning football. That was not an easy task…We really think the world of Gardner. He is highly competitive. I wouldn’t want it any other way for Gardner. He bleeds confidence and that’s who he is and that’s what I love about him.”

Bowen’s Thoughts: Some have thought that if the Colts need a new backup quarterback, they should opt for a similar playing style QB to that of Anthony Richardson. It doesn’t sound like Ballard agrees with that notion. For Gardner Minshew, he has a desire to compete for major playing time. That opportunity isn’t happening in Indy, unless Richardson is hurt. Will Minshew find it though somewhere else?


On the attention of the NFLPA report card news: “I mean I pay attention to it. We do a lot with our players internally anyways and ask their feedback. What I would tell you there’s some things I would probably debate with them. But I mean, we pay attention to it. Do I do I take it 100% to credence? No, no, but there’ll be questions asked and we’ll get feedback. I’ll tell you this. I don’t know many players that have been with us that don’t want to be back. I mean, that’s just been my take on it for the most part. So there’s always things you can get better at there is. There’s always things you can get better at.”

Bowen’s Thoughts: For those that missed it, the NFLPA announced on Wednesday 32 different surveys from players for their specific teams. The Colts graded below average in the categories of treatment of families, strength coaches and team travel. Honestly, I wouldn’t fret too much over these surveys. Yes, players are expressing their opinions, but Ballard is not naïve to ignore any real concern over things.


On any update with the late-season arrest of TE-Drew Ogletree: “None, none right now.”

Bowen’s Thoughts: A court date for Ogletree’s domestic violence incident from December was pushed back to later in March.


On the injury front: “Braden (Smith) did have surgery on the knee that’s been bothering him all year. It was successful, he’s in good shape, he should be good to go.”

Bowen’s Thoughts: An annual offseason question is around any post-season surgeries for guys. Obviously, Braden Smith battled through a lot this past season in missing 8 games. Jonathan Taylor did not need surgery for his ankle injury in Week 18. Ballard said he expects a big season from Taylor in 2024. Smith was the only Colts frontline guy that Ballard mentioned as needing surgery since the season has ended.

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