Top Takeaways: Chris Ballard, Frank Reich On Roster Cuts, Kicking Off 2020 Season

Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich on Sunday spoke with local reporters via video conference. What did they have to have to say about the moves the team made this weekend to get to its initial 53-man roster, injury updates on Trey Burton and Kemoko Turay, how Rodrigo Blankenship was able to claim the kicking battle and more?

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich on Sunday spoke with local reporters via video conference. What did they have to have to say about the moves the team made this weekend to get to its initial 53-man roster, injury updates on Trey Burton and Kemoko Turay, how Rodrigo Blankenship was able to claim the kicking battle and more?

You can catch that entire session above, but here are some top takeaways:

» A strong start and a strong finish at camp led to the Colts picking rookie Rodrigo Blankenship as their kicker heading into the 2020 season: Blankenship, who was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent this year out of Georgia, went toe to toe in training camp against the incumbent, Chase McLaughlin, who was the Colts' kicker the final four games of last season.

Both Blankenship and McLaughlin had their respective strong days in the practices that were open to the media, but Ballard said today what set Blankenship apart was his performance in the few closed practices to open up camp.

"The first four or five days before y'all even got out there, Rod didn't even miss," Ballard said.

Blankenship coupled his strong start to camp with a strong finish — he hit 6-of-7 field goals Aug. 29 in the team's final training camp scrimmage at Lucas Oil Stadium — and on Saturday, after about a week of deliberations, the Colts elected to go with the rookie heading into the season.

But it was close, Ballard said.

"I mean, you're splitting hairs between two pretty good players," Ballard said. "On the second scrimmage, I thought (Blankenship) looked really fluid and comfortable. And at the end of the day it was a tough choice and we just decided to go with Rod. We all think that he's just got something to him.

"We like Chase is going to kick in the league," Ballard said. "But at the end of the day, we were splitting hairs between the two guys. We had done a lot of work in the pre-draft process with Rod. We thought we saw what we needed to see here."

» Injury updates on Trey Burton, Kemoko Turay: Roster cutdown weekend usually provides a little more context to various injury situations, and that ended up being the case with Colts tight end Trey Burton and defensive end Kemoko Turay.

— Burton suffered a calf injury in the Colts' second training camp scrimmage at Lucas Oil Stadium on Aug. 29. Reich had mentioned last week that the initial belief was Burton would miss at least the first couple weeks of the regular season, which is relevant to the league's special injured reserve rules for the 2020 season.

Previously, players placed on IR during the season had to sit out at least eight games; this year that number is three games. Also, in previous years, teams could elect to return two players from IR; this year, teams are getting unlimited return-from-IR spots.

Like every other year, however, once a player returns to the practice field, the team has 21 days to decide whether to move them to the active roster or revert them to IR for the rest of the season.

But for now, the Colts have elected not to place Burton on IR — not yet, at least. Ballard said the team wants to give the situation a little more time so that it can more accurately project whether Burton is expected to miss two games (which would likely lead to him staying on the active roster) or three (which could land him on IR).

— Turay on Saturday was placed on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which means he has to sit out at least the first six games of the season and does not count against the active roster. Turay entered training camp on the Active/PUP list, but he was never brought back to practice before roster cutdowns.

Turay suffered a brutal ankle injury Week 5 last season in the Colts' victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, and is about nine months removed from "major ankle surgery," Ballard said today. Making matters worse: the COVID-19 pandemic made it more difficult for Turay to fully rehab his injury earlier this year, so because he's still feeling a little bit of pain and isn't ready to return to the practice field, the team wants to give him the appropriate amount of time to get right.

"Just, at the end of the day, he's not ready. And we're not going to put a guy out there that's not ready," Ballard said. "So we're going to shoot for six weeks from now to try to get him back. He's still having some pain in that ankle. He's rehabbing his butt off and working his butt off — trainers are doing a really good job with him. But he's just not there yet."

— In other Colts injury-related news, the team on Sunday officially placed defensive tackle Sheldon Day on IR. Day suffered a knee injury early in training camp and never was able to participate in any of the team's fully-padded practices after Reich said he underwent a procedure to clean the injury up.

Because Day was placed on IR after 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, he is eligible to return to practice as soon as after Week 3.

» Even without preseason reps on film, the Colts were excited to claim rookie tight end Noah Togiai off waivers: This year has presented all sorts of challenges when it comes to fully evaluating rookies and those fighting for the last few spots on each roster across the league. The COVID-19 pandemic not only wiped out every teams' on-field work during the offseason workout program, but it also led to the cancellation of the entire preseason. Those preseason reps can oftentimes be a major reason why a team would elect to keep an unproven rookie, either on the active roster or the practice squad.

But even without the luxury of that preseason film, the Colts were elated to get the chance to pick up tight end Noah Togiai on Sunday after he was waived by the Philadelphia Eagles the day prior. The Colts need depth at the position with Trey Burton expected to miss at least the first couple games with a calf injury, and Ballard said Togiai's college film was more than enough to make the move to claim him.

"When Burton went down with the calf injury, we just started studying these tight ends," Ballard said. "And, look: with no preseason games, it makes it even harder, but we re-evaluated a lot of the draft picks. We went back and went through college tape and identified (that) Noah's a guy that we think can help us. Without preseason tape you're not 100-percent sure, but we sure like what we saw on college tape and in the workout. So we'll get him in the fold and see how he does. I know this — we're excited to get Noah."

The 6-foot-4, 244-pound Togiai appeared in 44 games with 37 starts at Oregon State, and recorded 102 receptions for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns. He earned Second Team All-Pac-12 honors in 2017 and All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors last year.

» The work continues for rookie Jacob Eason, who has earned the No. 3 quarterback job: The Colts selected Eason in the fourth round of this year's NFL Draft, and with starter Philip Rivers and backup Jacoby Brissett firmly in place, the team immediately put Eason into a competition with veteran Chad Kelly for the No. 3 job.

In most years, the third quarterback might just be in consideration to lead the scout team or be a candidate for the practice squad, but this year hasn't been most years. The uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many teams, including the Colts to keep three quarterbacks on their active roster, while also stashing a fourth QB on the practice squad just in case.

Eason's primary selling point coming out of Washington was his elite arm talent, which was arguably better than any other quarterback prospect in this year's NFL Draft class. But the Colts wanted to see how Eason developed his all-around game once he had the chance to learn from Reich, quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady and veterans like Rivers and Brissett; coupled with some strong reps in practice, Eason, according to Ballard, did a solid enough job in the classroom to earn that No. 3 job heading into the regular season.

"Jacob has done a good job," Ballard said. "Everything we've asked him to do, he's done. He's very talented. I think you all saw it in the scrimmage, some of the throws he made."

Now it's time for the work to continue.

"He is very talented, but he has to grow," Ballard said of Eason. "He is a young player and he has to learn. He has to grow and he has to earn his way. At this point, he's doing it."

The Colts did end up signing Kelly to their practice squad on Sunday, keeping their four QBs together.

"Chad had a good camp, too," Ballard said. "We feel good about where we're at with the position. We'll do some things each week to make sure we have a quarterback protected just in case things get scary on us on the weekend."

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