INDIANAPOLIS – Per usual, there was plenty to consume from Chris Ballard’s season-ending press conference.
It’s time to break it down into a variety of topics that Ballard touched on in what will be quite the offseason for the Indianapolis Colts.
Here are 10 takeaways from Ballard’s season-ending press conference:
1. Admittance Of Mistakes
Similar to a young kid coming home to apologize to his parents for 1.3 GPA, Chris Ballard was apologetic on Tuesday for the awful season the Colts just had.
“I failed,” Ballard said. “I’m not going to sit up here and make excuses. I failed a lot of people. Highly disappointed about where we’re at, how the season went. I never take lightly what’s at stake here. It’s not the wins and losses, but people’s lives are on the line – players’ families, coaches’ families, front office, people in this building. I never take that lightly. I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in where we’re at. Ultimately, it falls on my shoulders. I won’t walk away from that, I won’t run from it. Saying that, we’ll grow from it and I’ll grow from it and I’ll get better because of it.”
It was a different, yet needed, tone from Ballard in acknowledging the issues that he helped create.
Of course, now it’s about the actions coming off those contrite words.
2. Roster Plan Need Changing?
For the second straight January, the question needed to be asked if Chris Ballard plans to change his roster building approach.
“I’ve got to grow,” Ballard said on Tuesday. “Like I’m very stubborn and dogmatic sometimes. I do believe you have to be great up front. That will be on my grave. You’ve got to be good up front and we weren’t good enough this year. We showed signs and I do think there’s potential going forward but at the end of the day we weren’t good enough, and that’s on me. In terms of how we build the rest of the roster, that’s an area that we’ll examine hard and move forward and grow.”
It would be one thing if Ballard’s plan—with a heavy emphasis on the trenches and not on the positional value hierarchy—was working.
But the Colts didn’t sniff the needed return on trench investment in 2022.
“Ultimately, our plan from a roster standpoint wasn’t good enough,” the GM added
3. Open To Trading Up To No. 1
One of the more convincing answers from Chris Ballard on Tuesday was about the willingness to trade up from No. 4 to No. 1.
“Yes, I’d do whatever it takes,” the GM said directly. “If we thought there’s a player that we’re driven to get that makes the franchise and the team better that’s what we would do.”
That asking price would be steep—how about the 4th overall pick, 35th overall pick and 2024 1st rounder?—but it might be needed if the Colts are going to get one of the top two quarterbacks in the 2023 draft class.
Ballard’s connections with Bears GM Ryan Poles. (both worked in Kansas City together) and Bears head coach Matt Eberflus should aid Indy if they want to make those trade up calls.
4. Extensions for Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman?
If past precedent for Chris Ballard holds true, Jonathan Taylor and/or Michael Pittman are in line for contract extensions this offseason.
That’s typically how Ballard has operated with rookie contract guys (think Shaquille Leonard, Braden Smith, Nyheim Hines) who have performed well through their first three NFL seasons.
Ballard is hopeful Taylor won’t need surgery on his injured right ankle, and has little hesitancy to paying a running back top dollar.
“When they’re great players it is (the right move to pay them),” Ballard said. “When they’re a special playmaker it is. I’m not going to get into what we’re going to do contract wise with him, but when you’re a special player and a special playmaker, yeah (you pay them).”
And Ballard is bullish on the type of player/person Pittman is in how he plays the game, even if he might not fit that obvious ‘No. 1 wide receiver’ role.
“We’ve all had this talk before. What’s a one? What’s a real one?” Ballard said when asked about that in regards to Pittman. “A guy that every time he touches the ball, you’re scared to death that he’s going to go score? There are very few of those.
“Is (Pittman) a really good freaking player? Damn right he is and he’s passionate and he’s tough and he competes his ass off and he wears it and I love that about him. I love that he wears his emotions on his sleeve. I love that he cares deeply about winning. Pittman’s a really good football player and we’re lucky to have him on our team.””
5. QB Hesitancy Still There?
While Chris Ballard says he understands the magnitude of having the 4th overall pick when the future at quarterback is up in the air, he also went back to one of his old answers.
“I’ve said this before and I think history proves me right, I can take one,” Ballard began. “We can take one as an organization and you all are going to celebrate it and say, ‘We have got the savior for the Colts.’ And then if he doesn’t play well, ‘Why did you take that guy?’
“You’ve got to be right. We’ve got to be right. We understand the magnitude of where we’re at in the draft and we understand the importance of the position. To get one that actually you can win with and to be right is the most important thing. Not, if we take one or not – being right.”
When Ballard was asked about why things have fallen off for the franchise, the first thing the GM mentioned was the annual change at quarterback.
“Every time we keep going and getting these vet quarterbacks – this falls on me,” Ballard said. “This is on me. ‘Go get a vet quarterback, well, here’s the expectation, we’re going to the Super Bowl. They got a good roster, they’re going to the Super Bowl.’ Well, there was holes in that. Our job is to fix those holes.”
6. What Are The Mistakes?
Chris Ballard was left without a ton of details in explaining the why behind the Colts downfall.
Sure, Ballard pointed to the constant QB turnover, the alarming giveaway numbers, the roster building and the lack of “competitive confidence.”
When the bullseye has grown for the Colts both Monday through Saturday or during a game on Sunday, that’s where this team has wilted far too often.
“Here’s what we didn’t do a very good job of, we didn’t manage expectations very well, at all. At all,” Ballard said. “We’ve been so process oriented. That’s who I am. It’s who Frank (Reich) was. We want to be process oriented. With a good process, you’re going to lead to a good result.”
But Ballard said there needs to be more exploring into what has gone wrong under his watch.
Blaming Frank Reich for all of this, like the Colts largely did with Carson Wentz last year, would be an inaccurate depiction of the organizational problems at play right now.
7. Traits For New Head Coach?
Don’t start with an end in mind.
Chris Ballard got philosophical in first explaining his approach to a head coaching search with no rush to finish first in.
“A lot of times what happens is you get a vision of what you want before – you’ve made your mind up and then you might ignore somebody that’s really freaking good right in front of your face,” Ballard explained further. “We’ve got a very detailed process put together on the traits and attributes we’re looking for in the head coach. Don’t care which side of the ball. And then to be patient and take your time and make sure we have a thorough interview with everybody. Consistent, thorough – I don’t care if it takes until mid-February to hire the head coach. It’s about getting it right.”
Ballard said there’s no pre-requisites for side of the ball, head coach experience or alienating those from the college ranks.
But the GM has liked the accountability, and little louder voice, form Jeff Saturday, so that type of personality could be on the GM’s mind for recommendation to Jim Irsay.
Ballard will lead the search, with Irsay having the final say in picking the new head coach.
8. Voice Muted At All?
Chris Ballard said all the right things on Tuesday about Jim Irsay, and the GM’s voice within the organization.
And offered no doubt that he wanted to be in Indy long-term
“We don’t have a transfer portal. We don’t have that and I don’t want it,” Ballard said. “I’ve never backed out of anything in my life and I won’t back out of this and we’ll get it right. People are scared to struggle. I’m not going to sit here and say I like it, but I’m not afraid of it. I’m not afraid of the struggle. I’m not afraid of the hardness of what we do. As a matter of fact, I kind of get off on it.
“To answer your question, no. There’s no other place that I want to be but Indy and I want to make it right for Indy.”
Ballard’s answer about his role in the hiring of Saturday as interim, compared to an in-house choice, tells you everything you need to know though about his recent say in big decisions.
“It never really got to that point,” Ballard said of wanting to promote an interim head coach. “The discussion was Jeff (Saturday) and when we decided to go that way, that’s where we were going.”
9. Jeff Saturday’s Candidacy
That 1-7 record Jeff Saturday accumulated as the Colts interim coach will, apparently, have no bearing in Chris Ballard’s evaluation of the hopeful head coaching candidate.
“That’s a tough spot man,” Ballard said on Tuesday of Saturday’s 1-7 record as interim. “I’m not judging him by that. What I will judge, the things I did like were he stayed positive, he kept working, held the team accountable, wasn’t afraid to hold players accountable and when he saw mistakes, to call them out. Sure he’s got things he’s got to grow, we all do. I’m not going to judge him off that.”
Despite Ballard being highly skeptical of Saturday as the interim choice, he will be on the candidate list.
“Sometimes you can do things right and you don’t see any, from the outside world, you don’t look, and you don’t see those improvements,” Ballard said of what he liked about Saturday’s interim stint. “Just those daily interaction with the team…Being a head coach is hard. Not only from managing a football team and coaching a football team, managing a coaching staff, 69 players, schedule, media – all the stuff you’ve got to deal with. Each week I thought he got better. I know the results didn’t show that, but I do think he improved.”
10. Bernhard Raimann’s Left Tackle Future
One of the few bright spots of the 2022 season was the important rookie development of Bernard Raimann.
That growth has Chris Ballard thinking the Colts have perhaps found their left tackle of the future.
“Yes, I do,” Ballard said when asked if Raimann has shown enough to be the left tackle of the future. “Encouraged by him, very encouraged. Early was rough, as it is for most left tackles. I mean, we want them to be Jonathan Ogden the second they walk in the league or (Anthony) Castonzo. We forget Anthony had his struggles early.
“Most left tackles do have their struggles early, but to his credit, I’ll never forget leaving New England and Bernhard (Raimann) is passionate, cares and wants to do the right thing. He’s got tears in his eyes walking to the bus. I remember telling him, I said, ‘Look, you’re going to have days like this in this league.’ And I said, ‘But your mental toughness and your ability to reset is important.’ And I said, ‘And for you to make it, you have to do that.’ To the kid’s credit, he battled his ass off. He got better each week. Sure, he’s got some things he’s got to work on. He’s got to get a little bit bigger, little bit stronger, but we thought he performed at a winning level the last seven, eight weeks of the season. I know there was a couple of plays and some mistakes out there, they all do. Look across the league, players make mistakes. They’re not perfect.”
If Ballard and the Colts are right on this, it should remove left tackle from the heavy investment need this offseason. Plus, it would solve such a vital position.
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