INDIANAPOLIS —Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard this week sat down with Colts.com's Larra Overton for a one-on-one interview at the NFL Scouting Combine. What did he have to say about his staff's efforts at the Combine, building the draft board, Anthony Castonzo's potential return and more?
Here's that conversation, which you can watch in its entirety above:
How important is the NFL Scouting Combine to the Colts' prospect evaluation process?
Ballard: "It's an important part of the process. I think each and every step, from game tape during the fall to February meetings to Combine to workout — I mean, I think they all play a role. But this is the one place where you can get medical, you start the interview process and get to know 45 different prospects at a closer level, to be able to see them work out all in one place, it's very functional for us to start gathering more information."
You just wrapped up your marathon draft meetings to set up your initial board. What is the true value of those meetings, where you're in the draft room together with your entire staff for hours on end for two, three weeks straight?
Ballard: "Well, when we start meeting, it's the first step. And each one of them get just a little more heated. So we go through it for 12 hours and we're really eliminating names and getting to the ones we're really focusing on for March and April, and each meeting session gets a little more tense, 'cause we're really debating how he fits, this player vs. this player. It's a fun process, but it's long, it's grinding. If it weren't for Ed (Dodds), we'd probably be in there 14, 16 hours a day, but he revamped our schedule for me."
The Tennessee Titans advanced to the AFC Championship Game, while the Houston Texans made it to the Divisional Round. How closely do you monitor what's going on in your own division as you continue building your roster?
Ballard: "We always start with our division. You start there first: how do you match up, what do you need to do, what do we need to acquire with our team. I've said it the last couple years: our division's good. Tennessee, Houston, Jacksonville, I mean, these are good football teams, and all of them have had success in the playoffs — I think all of us have at some point here in the last three years. So it's a highly, highly competitive division, and, look, the whole league's chasing Kansas City. They won the prize, and now we're all chasing them."
How do the moves that the other successful teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, who just won the Super Bowl, factor into your team's moves?
Ballard: "We always evaluate for us: how are we building the team, what do we need, does he fit our criteria? We always worry about us internally. We scout from inside out; we'd rather people have to match what we're doing."
What's it like to collaborate with Frank Reich during the prospect evaluation process?
Ballard: "We have some very interesting discussions, and all our coaches at some point will come in the meeting and give their opinion — we'll have a big one at the end. But Frank and I's relationship's great from that standpoint, where we can challenge each other, do it respectfully, and challenge each other's thinking, and then still come out of the room knowing that we're going to the best thing for the Colts. And I think that's critical — that doesn't always happen. So I'm fortunate working with Frank and having a partner that understands that; doesn't take anything personal, when we don't agree we don't draw a line in the sand — I mean, it is a good, healthy, functioning working relationship, and that's good. It's good for us; good for the team."
How advantageous is it to also have your three coordinators returning for a third straight year as you continuing tweaking the board?
Ballard: "It makes it easier to scout. And I think the longer you're together, the more time you're together, the more accurate you're gonna be scouting, because you understand exactly how each player's gonna function within their roles that they're asking them to do. There's always little tweaks along the way, and you're not always perfect, but the more time you spend, the more continuity we keep on offense and defense in terms of what we're doing, it just improves the scouting process and improves our selection of players."
How much do you factor the pressure these prospects are feeling at the Combine into your evaluations?
Ballard: "Look: I think this is a tremendous opportunity for the players, for us to see them perform under duress, under pressure situations. I just told a story in there about Johnny Knox, where Johnny was a small-school (prospect), Abilene Christian, and all he did was show up at the all-star game and perform and show up at the Combine and perform. Guys that go through the entire process and handle it — handle the tough interviews, handle come here and work out well — and then they've got good tape? It usually translates to success on the field."
With news this week that Anthony Castonzo intends to return for a 10th season in 2020, how excited were you to begin checking that critical box this offseason?
Ballard: "Well, look: we've gotta work through the contract stuff with Anthony, which we're in the process of doing. But feel fortunate that he wants to come back and that he wants to be an Indianapolis Colt. And the continuity between those five guys — and, really, six, seven and eight, also — are critical for your success. We were fortunate with all five of them playing all 16 games last year — I know that's not always reality — so we've got to continue to have depth, but getting those five guys back, which we think is a strength of our team, you know, that's a good thing for us."