INDIANAPOLIS – Exhausted and disappointed.
Those were the emotions Chris Ballard felt in the aftermath of the Colts’ season ending on Saturday in Buffalo.
After a few days to recharge, Ballard held his end-of-the-season press conference on Thursday afternoon.
Here are some of the highlights from Ballard’s presser:
-On if he wants Philip Rivers back in 2021: “Here’s the discussion I had with Philip, and I had it with Frank (Reich) and I’m talking with Mr. Irsay this afternoon. Do I think Philip can still play? Absolutely, I do. Philip and I had an hour talk (Wednesday). He’s going to take time. And we are going to take some time. We will meet here in about a month and figure out which way we are going to move forward. Philip has to figure out if he still wants to play. So, we need to go through that process. Do I think Philip Rivers is a winning quarterback that we can win and go to the Super Bowl with? Absolutely, I do.”
–On the conversation with Rivers this week: “I didn’t commit either way. What I told Philip was, ‘We need to both take a month and decide on what direction we want to go.’ This was after he told me, ‘Chris, I’m not 100 percent sure.’ Well, you need somebody to be 100 percent sure. Do we want Philip back? Yes. Yes. But I told Philip, we have to go through the process. I have to do my job. I need to go through the process. If this was a 30-year-old Philip Rivers, or a 35-year-old Philip Rivers, we are not having this talk. But this is a 39-year-old Philip Rivers, who might have 1 or 2 years left.”
-On Jacob Eason/Jacoby Brissett: “We drafted Jacob Eason last year who we like. We have to find out a lot more about Jacob Eason. No offseason program. Really the first time we saw Jacob was in training camp and there’s no preseason games, so we are trying to get ready for the season at that point. But we like what we’ve seen from Jacob. We think we really have a really good young talent in Jacob Eason. I don’t want to discount Jacoby. We still like Jacoby Brissett. We think he’s a good player. So let’s not completely take Jacoby out of the mix here. But the one position you cannot…all of you go back and look at first-round quarterbacks drafted over the last 10 years, it is not an exact science. Everyone thinks you just take one and you are going to fix the problem. Taking one will get you all off my ass for a little bit, but the second that guy doesn’t play well, I’m going to be the first one run out of the building. I promise you, we get the importance of the quarterback position, but the difference in just taking one and taking the right one, is the key in our minds. We will explore it. We will examine it. We will go A-to-Z on it, I promise you. That position never leaves my mind and it’s something we have to get fixed, but there’s got to be a little bit of timing and luck that comes into play.”
–On Jacob Eason being this team’s backup in 2021: “I’m not ready to say I’m comfortable with it enough. We liked him when we drafted him. We think he’s really talented. It was such a different year (with no true offseason program) to really evaluate him in the bullets. We still have to go through that with Jacob. But let me tell you this about Jacob Eason, he kept his mouth shut and he worked. He was in a great quarterback room with a lot of experience and got to take all that in. I got to visit with him for about 30 minutes the other day. I asked him, ‘How did you grow? What did you learn?’ He had a great answer that just watching Philip, Jacoby, Frank, Nick (Sirianni) and Marcus (Brady) talk ball, how they carried themselves, how they worked, how they were professionals, all of that was something that he absorbed. He knows he’s got to go to work this offseason but Jacob is very talented, extremely talented. I remember he was out before a game throwing to some wideouts and a coach of another team who I am close with, walked up to me and said, ’Who is that?’ I said, ‘It’s our young quarterback, Jacob Eason.’ So it doesn’t take long to see his talent. Now we just have to see him play.”
–On the time needed to decide if Quenton Nelson can play left tackle: “We have Quenton, Ryan Kelly, Braden Smith, Mark Glowinski, so we have 4 damn good offensive linemen right now. We have some young ones we like in Danny Pinter and Will Holden, who we brought in late but held up pretty good against Pittsburgh. We know we have to make some additions to the offensive line. And I think you know Frank and I’s opinions on the offensive line. We never want to go short. I believe in my soul that’s where you win in this league so it’s something that we have to address. I feel that we have 4 really good starters, and a few of them are really special and some good younger players to work in the mix.”
–On T.Y. Hilton as a free agent: “He’s always been a great player, but how he has grown, as a teammate, man, he’s really special dude. T.Y. Hilton is a really special dude. Before we played Buffalo, I walked up and I said, ‘I love you. I do.’ T.Y. is not the most emotional guy but he gave me a hug. He knows…he’s special man, as a person, and as a teammate, and as a competitor. As to his ability. T.Y. can still play. Whether it’s at the level it was 4 or 5 years ago, as you get older, you have to find different ways. But I’ll tell you this, T.Y. is smart, instinctive, knows how to get open and he still has value. We’ll see how it works out here over the long haul. But we value T.Y. and we think he can still play. And he’s been a great Colt.”
-On the injuries with Parris Campbell: “Parris is young. He had bad luck. He gets hit on a fly sweep reverse, hits right on the knee. It’s just bad luck. He’s worked his butt off in rehab. He’s driven. He’s still young. He’s still talented. We think Parris is going to be a valuable member of this team moving forward I still believe in him. Our coaches still believe in him. We will get him healthy, get him ready for camp and let him compete.”
-On free agent Marlon Mack: “Marlon Mack’s (injury) broke my heart. That sucked. That was hard. Really hard. And it was hard on him. But he’s so tough minded. I watched him work his butt off here all season to get back. Marlon Mack deserves a contract, unequivocally. He deserves a good contract. I don’t know if we are going to be able to do that here. Saying that, I’m not going to say that, ‘Marlon is not going to be back.’ Because I think he’s really special as a player and I could just see a backfield of Marlon, Jonathan (Taylor) and Nyheim (Hines) and (Jordan) Wilkins be really special. So I’m not going to discount it. But I think Marlon Mack is a great player and deserves what he has coming to him. And he’s even a better teammate, unselfish, everything you want.”
–On the edge rush: “I thought (Denico) Autry) and Justin (Houston) had pretty good years. I thought (Al-Quadin) Muhmmad had a good season. Sometimes the collective unit is sometimes better than all. And that’s what we want to have. We want to have 8 guys, but we are always going to be looking for rush. Kemoko (Turay) came back mid-season and wasn’t always right with the ankle. So we need him to get completely healthy. We need Ben Banogu to come on. Everybody thinks that these guys are instant rushers and 10-sack guys. Sure, it happens in the league, but (the Colts) traded one away (Jerry Hughes) who had like 1 sack, or I don’t know how many he had, to Buffalo and then the guy turned into a rusher in Year 4. You have to have some patience and keep developing these guys. But I think you know our emphasis. We are going to continue to fuel the fire on the front. We think that makes the train go.”
–On if Xavier Rhodes will be a priority to re-sign: “Xavier had a heck of a year. Really bought into what we are doing. I give (cornerbacks coach) Jonathan Gannon a lot of credit for that. He had a relationship with Xavier from Minnesota. Xavier worked and bought into everything we are doing. I think we will wait and see how it works out here in free agency, but we like Xavier.”
–On Rock Ya-Sin’s second NFL season: “Rock had his good moments and he had his rough moments, no different than a lot of second-year corners. I’ll tell you a story, I’m reminded of Charles Tillman, who I think is a Hall of Fame player. I’ll never forget, I think it was Charles’ 2nd or 3rd year playing, we played Carolina in the playoffs and Steve Smith just had a monster day against him. Charles Tillman went on to have a great career. It’s hard to play corner in this league. The rules make it hard. They call PI on any freaking bump that happens. It is very difficult to play corner. Rock knows he has to make some improvement. But I think he has the right mental attitude to do it. We think he will work and get better.”
-On free agent Anthony Walker: “I have a special relationship with Anthony Walker. Selfless. Team guy. Rare leader. I hope he gets into coaching one day or scouting. Mark my words on this, if Anthony Walker gets into coaching, he will be a head football coach in the National Football League. And if he gets into scouting, he’ll be a general manager. He’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant and he’s made of the right stuff. I know Anthony wants to play more. We value Anthony. We’ll see how it works out. I want good for Anthony.”
-On if he feels better about bringing in a player with a checkered past: “Yeah, I do. I really do. Whether we do it or not, it would depend on the case. Absolutely. They know the standard. They know we are going to hold people accountable. They are going to hold them accountable. We are starting to take the right steps in that direction, where the locker room puts some peer pressure on people. We’ve got some growth to do there a little bit, but it’s much better than it was a year ago.”
-On the 2021 QB draft class depth and if one would be there at No. 21: “I doubt it (laughs). It’s a good class. I’ll say that. It’s a good class. They all get pushed up now. I think we are seeing it. They all get pushed up. A little bit of luck has to come into play.”