INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts' draft board is currently a living, breathing thing at the team's West 56th Street headquarters.
With head coach Frank Reich's full staff now officially in place, Colts general manager Chris Ballard and his player personnel staff have been taking advantage of the opportunity to meet with the new coaches to really start to figure out what kinds of players will best fit their offensive and defensive schemes.
Reich, the offensive coordinator of the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles the past two seasons, wants to install a more aggressive, fast-paced offense. New Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, meanwhile, is changing the team's base defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3 front, with an emphasis on size up front and speed in the back-end.
So with that in mind, the Colts are spending the next few days just up the road at Lucas Oil Stadium and at the annual NFL Scouting Combine, where they get the chance to evaluate the next crop of prospects set to enter April's NFL Draft.
Simply put, the more time the Colts' coaching and scouting staffs can spend together, the better. But that's especially true considering the team's search for its new head coach ended by the second week in February, while his full staff wasn't in place for another 2 1/2 weeks.
"I think the more time that we spend together — not just me and Frank, but Frank with our staff, me with his staff — I think we all need to spend time together," Ballard said this week in a sit-down interview with Colts.com's Caroline Cann. "At the end of the day, it's going to be me and Frank making the ultimate decision, so the more time we spend together and we talk and we see how each other thinks about certain things, the better."
Here's the entirety of this week's Q&A session with the second-year Colts general manager:
On if Ballard feels he has better footing this offseason heading into the Combine now that he's in his second season as Colts' GM:
"We put the process in place last year, and then re-adjusting, again, to a new coaching staff — new schemes on both sides of the ball — so we'll keep working towards that. You know, it's been a whirlwind this last month, so now I'm going to have to play a little bit of catch-up here in the month of March. But, no, we feel good. Look, our scouts have done a tremendous job — especially when I was on the head coach search — from Ed Dodds to Rex Hogan to Morocco Brown, Kevin Rogers … I mean, I can't speak highly enough about the work that those guys did over the last month to really get us prepared going forward — to get our coaching staff ready for players they need to evaluate, and then making sure we have the right guys identified for us going into the draft."
On the importance of spending time with the new coaching staff:
"I think the more time we spend together, you get more to what they want. So we had a big meeting on Monday, where we visited with the offensive staff for a long time about the prototypes they're looking for at each position, and we'll continue to do that. As we continue to watch free agent tape and college tape, we'll bring them in, watch players together. I think the more you can watch players and see exactly what they like, the more you can get on some common ground of what we're looking for. Look, at the end of the day, it's our job to find what they want in a player, and we agree on the character end that we want tough, hard-nosed football players that love football, and then it's just a matter of matching the skillset with what they want to use on offense. The good news defensively is I've been in the scheme for nine years, and they ran it here back when Bill (Polian) and Tony (Dungy) were here, and we have six or seven scouts that have scouted for the scheme. So that's going to be a pretty seamless transition defensively."
On what went into the decision to move on from veteran running back Frank Gore, and how that conversation with Gore went:
"Well, he knows — Frank knows the way I feel about him. He knows the way the Colts feel about him. I could go on for days about Frank. But it was good. Frank understands. I mean, he gets football. Frank, he calls himself a football player, and he is. He gets it from every aspect, from not only a player but from a business standpoint, and so it was a good conversation. As for the rest of the guys, look, you want to bring all your guys back if you can, but that's not the real world. You know, once they hit free agency, you don't know what the market's going to be. So we'll let that play out, we'll let our coaches finish up their evaluations, and we'll see what guys we think are good fits, and if the market matches, then we'll move forward."On how he'd evaluate this year's draft class:
"Well, I think every draft has good players. I always laugh when people say there's a bad draft — I just disagree with that. I think that at every level there's good players in the draft. I mean, just because everybody's not writing or talking about them, it doesn't mean they're not going to be stars. I mean, you need to think back to (Rashaan) Melvin: Melvin was an undrafted free agent, and now he is where he is today. (Pierre) Desir was cut two or three times. You know, it just depends on how you look at it. I do think there's some good offensive linemen. I think the middle of the draft's got some really good defensive players in it. And I think it's a very deep running back class."
On how he balances selecting players in the draft that are expected to contribute right away versus those who are more raw and might take more developing:
"You hope every guy, he comes in and plays right away. I mean, that's all our hopes. But that's not realistic, and that's one of the great things about Frank: when we visited (him), and also visited with our staff, you know you want to get your own guys, you want to develop them. You want us to get them the talent level that we need for them to be successful winning players in the league, and then watch them bring their talent to light. How long that takes, you don't know. Sometimes it takes a month, sometimes it takes two years, sometimes it takes three years. You just don't know. They develop at their own rate. What you have to do is be patient. You can't just flush a player because he doesn't get it right away. You have to take your time, you have to have a process in place, and then you have to see incremental growths from him that says he's going to be a guy for you and a player for you."
On what he gets out of the NFL Combine from a GM's perspective:
"It's all important. I always laugh when people say they get their draft board set right now, because, I mean, if they do, God bless them. But, to me, you've got to work every part of the process, from summer scouting to fall camp scouting to the fall season to all-star games to the Combine to spring workouts, interviews — I think it's all important. When it comes to the Combine, I mean, the medicals are critical for all of us. This is a chance for us, for our doctors, to put our hands on players, make sure we get everything evaluated that we need to get evaluated. The interview time is just a first time for us, a lot of times, to get a first impression. And guys that we think we're going to move forward with, we'll go spend time with. It's just hard to spend 15 minutes with one person and a guy and think you're going to make a decision in that 15-minute timeframe. We need to spend as many hours as we can to get to know them as well as we can. And then the workouts are important. I mean, look, it's fun to watch guys compete against their peers. And I know everybody says it's in shorts, but look, they're all competing. This is a chance to compete in front of 32 teams, and it's fun to watch those guys rise to the occasion. I'll never forget watching Johnny Knox, and I didn't have a big grade on Johnny Knox, but here's a Division II player that came to the Combine, runs 4.34, catches every ball … it just wasn't too big for him. So there's things that you can take out of the workout that are very important."
On the process of developing the GM/head coach partnership with Reich:"I think the more time that we spend together — not just me and Frank, but Frank with our staff, me with his staff — I think we all need to spend time together. At the end of the day, it's going to be me and Frank making the ultimate decision, so the more time we spend together and we talk and we see how each other thinks about certain things, the better."