INDIANAPOLIS – It took more than 12 minutes on Tuesday morning before Chris Ballard fielded an Andrew Luck question.
Ballard’s annual Combine press conference had several intriguing tidbits with the Colts heading into a massive offseason.
What were some of the highlights from Ballard’s presser?
- Castonzo Coming Back: Following Jim Irsay’s comments on Sunday, Chris Ballard went a step further on Tuesday. About two weeks ago, the 31-year-old Castonzo informed Ballard he would be returning to the Colts for a 10th NFL season. The two sides are now working on a new contract for the left tackle free agent. Ballard did say Castonzo’s return should be viewed on a ‘year-to-year’ basis moving forward. “That’s a position I think you always need to look at,” Ballard said of left tackle. “From a developmental standpoint, because of the speed of the game, the changes in technique on the O-line, I think it’s better to anticipate that a year or two earlier and start to get some guys in the pipeline. We’ve been fortunate here because we’ve had Joe Haeg and Le’Raven (Clark). We’ve had some young guys that have been able to develop and when they’ve had to step in and play we were able to continue to play good football up front. We definitely have to keep our eye on that.”
- Ballard Comments On ‘Talented’ Jordan Love: About two hours before Chris Ballard took the podium on Tuesday, Jordan Love met the media in Indianapolis. Love said he had met with the Colts. Two hours later, Ballard was asked about Love, in particular the rise in interceptions the Utah State quarterback had in 2019 (20 TDs and 17 picks vs. 32 TDs and 6 picks in 2018). “He’s very talented,” Ballard said of the intriguing Love. “Had a heck of a season in 2018 under (Coach Matt Wells) Wells who is now at Texas Tech. Matt Ryan coming out of Boston College, what did he have, 19 (interceptions)? You got to break down each one of those interceptions and (ask) why did they happen? It’s not always on the quarterback. I’m not saying that’s the case in this situation, but we got to break all those down and see where we’re at.”
- Colts Open To Big-Name Free Agent: For the first time in the Chris Ballard era, the GM feels his locker room is ready to handle a talented free agent, who might not check every single character box of the team. Now, it still takes two parties to agree in free agency, but the Colts have more willingness this offseason to make a substantial move. Having said that, Ballard wants to keep his main roster building philosophy in mind. “Things don’t always go the way you want them to go, but we have a philosophy of how we’re going to build it,” Ballard said on Tuesday. “We want to be able to acquire young players and develop our own and develop them as Colts. Not saying we won’t enter into free agency, because we have, but it won’t be our main source of player acquisition. We’ll continue to build this thing the way we see fit and the way we think you can win football games.
- Loaded Wideout Position In 2020: The one position in the 2020 Draft that Chris Ballard mentioned on Tuesday as having some major talent, and quality depth? Wideout. “Do I think it’s a special receiver draft? Yeah, I think there’s a lot of depth in the wide receiver position,” the GM said. That’s good news for the Colts, considering their playmaking need. Before Ballard spoke on Tuesday, Raiders GM Mike Mayock commented that he thought there were around 20 wideouts with a top-three round grade, compared to 12-to-14 in a normal year.
- Still Need More From Brissett: Like he did last month, Chris Ballard made sure to point out that it was a tale of two seasons in 2019 from Jacoby Brissett. Ballard acknowledged the sprained MCL Brissett suffered in November, but also didn’t think that completely contributed to the quarterback’s poor numbers down the stretch. “For a couple of games, I think where some things, mechanically, that he was compensating for,” Ballard said of Brissett injuring his knee in Week 8 against the Steelers. “But I think it’s a factor of the injuries at the wide receiver position, not having continuity with them. I wouldn’t put it on the injury. One thing about this league, once you open Training Camp everybody is nicked and dinged, you have to play through that and take care of their body. I don’t want to completely put (the poor numbers late) on the injury.” Ballard also mentioned that part of life as a starting quarterback in the NFL is that you burden the team’s record more so than any other position on the roster. “I said this at the end of the year: We still need more. We still got to find out more,” Ballard said of Brissett. “At the end of the day, unfortunately for quarterbacks, even though it might not all be their fault, when you go 7-9 and don’t accomplish what you want to accomplish, you’re going to shoulder a lot of the blame. It’s no different than the head coach and the general manager. You might not be able to control everything but that’s just the nature of what we do. I had a long talk with Jacoby. It’s just the nature of the position and what we do.”
- QB Draft Class Has Depth: As you’d expect, Ballard was also asked on Tuesday about the 2020 group of quarterbacks. “It’s one of the hardest positions to play in sports,” Ballard said about quarterback. “One, from the transition from college football to the NFL, what we’re asking them to do, and doing it against the best in the world. Then the expectations and the pressure and all the things that come along with playing quarterback. I think it’s a good group. It’s got good depth at all levels.” Ballard reiterated on Tuesday that ‘forcing’ the selection of a quarterback can set a franchise back. “We all know that position usually gets pushed up (draft boards),” Ballard said of quarterback. “You’ve got to be true to your evaluation. More mistakes are made when you push that position up and then he doesn’t deserve (it). Then the expectations and everything else builds up on that kid.”
- Have To Ask About Andrew Luck: Here’s the musical chairs around the Andrew Luck retirement saga, more than six months into his decision: Chris Ballard tries to shut the door, Jim Irsay swings it back open, and Ballard shuts it again. Here were Ballard’s comments on Tuesday when asked about a possible Luck return. “Andrew’s retired,” the GM said. Moving on (again).
- Free Agent Time For Ballard: With Anthony Castonzo’s return, that takes care of the Colts’ most important free agent in 2020. Who is next? Ballard said that he will be meeting with the representation of Devin Funchess in the next week or two. Any other FAs that could be re-signed before the new league year begins on March 18th? “Yeah, we’ll see,” Ballard said. Like Jim Irsay mentioned on Sunday, the Colts are letting the rehab process play out for Adam Vinatieri before publicly stating a decision on his free agency. “He’s still rehabbing,” Ballard said of Vinny on Tuesday. “You know Vinny now, Vinny works. That’ll be more to see where the rehab is and see where he’s at.
- Colts Remain High On Parris Campbell: In last year’s Combine, Parris Campbell put on a show, impressing the Colts enough to merit a second-round pick. Campbell was limited to 7 games played in an injury-filled rookie season, but that isn’t diminishing the Colts’ feelings on the young speedster. “A little bad luck with Parris this year,” the GM said. “I remember sitting in Training Camp, he has an unbelievable day at practice and then pulls the hamstring. Then it takes him into the season and then he comes back and then hurts a groin, hurts a foot. Every time he kept making that push, something would set him back. I’ll say this about Parris, he has not left the building since the end of the season. He’s been there working, rehabbing and getting his body right. I think he understands what he has to do to get his body right for the grind of the season. We think Parris Campbell has a lot of upside. I think we saw it. You watch the Tennessee game down in the red zone and he scores a TD on a route over the top. Saw it against Oakland. He had a fumble on the play, but he catches an option route, breaks two tackles and looks like he’s going to go and saw it against Pittsburgh where I think he almost had 100 yards on just coaches getting the ball in his hands.”
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