INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard tonight joined host Matt Taylor on 1070 The Fan's "Colts Roundtable Live" and discussed his thoughts on the team's first eight games, the approach to the upcoming trade deadline, how the team plans to spend its cap space and much more.
Here's that conversation in its entirety:
What's your assessment of the team at the halfway point of the season?
"Well, it's good to string together a couple wins (the) last two weeks, and, you know, you build upon that. You know, the bye's coming at a good time — it gives us a chance to get healthy — and, like Frank talked to the team today, this is not an off week for us, even though it's an off week, we're still gonna do the things that we need to do to get prepared for a big game coming up in Jacksonville."
Where do you see the team getting better, especially here in the last couple weeks?
"Well, I thought against Buffalo, you know, both sides of the ball performed extremely well. Defensively, taking the ball away five times in that game, which is what we want to do each game, and that's how we're gonna be built, I thought that was outstanding. And then offensively, you know, really being able to be balanced, more balanced, on offense, run the ball, control the clock and then take advantage of our situations when we get down in the red zone. And I thought especially the last two weeks they've been outstanding in that area."
What have the last few weeks been like for you? Are you seeing the team developing the way you had hoped?
"Well, I mean, look: even when we were 1-5, I thought we were doing the right things, we just weren't getting the results that we wanted. But we're doing the right things, we're practicing the right way, we're playing players in the roles that they need to be played in. And now we just had to get a better result. And look: whether you win or lose on Sunday — I've said this a bunch — you've gotta reset on Monday, and it's a new season. I mean, it really is — it's a week-to-week league. And it's good to get two wins to get our record up to the three-win mark. Are we happy with that? No — not completely. We'd rather be flipped. But we are what we are, and we just keep resetting every week and getting better every week."
What is the latest on defensive tackle/end Tyquan Lewis, and are we going to see him come of IR to the active roster?
"We'll have more on Tyquan here in the next couple weeks. (He) came back last week, got his first week of action since training camp. Movement was good, toe felt good. This off-week, he'll work with our strength and conditioning staff, and they'll put him through three full days of hard work to really work on getting his conditioning back up, and then we'll hit him that next week to see where he's at and if he's ready to move up after the Jacksonville game."
The Colts have 21 days since his first day of practice to decide whether or not to bring him back to the active roster?
"Correct. That's correct. So it'll be after the Jacksonville game where we'll have to make a decision."
Where do you see Lewis? Is he more of a pass rusher; an inside guy up front?
"Well, we think … he was a defensive end in college, but they also slid him down inside to the three (technique), and we ultimately think that's going to be his best position in the system, as an upfield disruptive three technique. I mean, when I was in Chicago we had guys, prototypical and same build that he had in Tommie Harris and Henry Melton, and we think he can develop into that same type of role. We'll probably play in him both spots here early — 'cause he does have some position flexibility — but, look, we're high on Tyquan. We moved up in the second round to get him. It's unfortunate that he had the injury, but he looked good last week in practice, and we expect big things of him when we get him up the roster."
What are you looking for at the trade deadline on Tuesday now that the team is starting to play better?
"Well, look: I mean, we've always got our lines in the water. I think a lot of the stuff reported in the media, I would tell you is probably 80-percent not true. So there's always a lot of rumors and things floating out. We're always looking to get better. I've said that since Day 1. We're always going to look to improve. We'll always have lines in the water. And, look, it always takes two teams to tango, and you can want, but it doesn't mean the other team you agree on the compensation that needs to be done to get the trade done. So we'll see."
What's the trade deadline like for you? Is it more stressful than a typical day?
"No — there's no more stress. Look: football's different than other sports, like basketball and baseball, where you can plug a guy in. I mean, these guys have practiced together … I've always said football is the ultimate team sport where all 11 guys have to be on the same page, and if one of them messes up, it screws up everything. And so being able to add a guy is hard to do. It's very difficult to do. Can it be done? Absolutely it can. But you need to make sure you're getting the right fit, the right person, the right fit for the scheme — all that stuff has to match up for it to happen."
The team was criticized this offseason for selecting Darius Leonard in the draft and the hiring of Dave DeGuglielmo as its offensive line coach, but both moves appear to be paying off. How much does that factor into your motivation?
"Well, look: if we reacted or read or used any type of motivation from negative things written, we wouldn't have enough time in the day. So, look — no. We worry about what we think internally, and it's the case with both guys. With Darius Leonard, our area scout had conviction on him, we had conviction in the building from our defensive coordinator and linebacker coach and from our scouting room, and we took him. And we weren't worried about what the outside world thought about Darius Leonard. And the same for Guge. Guge has done a tremendous job with our offensive line, bringing those guys together, bringing an element of toughness to the position, and I think the results are speaking for themselves."
What it is about the current offensive line combination that's working out so well?
"Well, look: I think we've played pretty good all year, even I thought both Nick (Sirianni) and Guge and Frank have done an outstanding job with even with the moving pieces we had early in the season, with the kind of rotation at right tackle, we were throwing the ball a lot, and we still were doing a pretty good job protecting the passer, even early in the season. So I just think as a unit, one of the big things we said going into the year was — and this is not gonna change; this is gonna be something that we're gonna do our best every year to get nine or 10 linemen that we think are NFL quality and that you can win with and you can play with. And I thought our scouting group did an excellent job this year getting not only talent at the position, but depth at the position."
What is your assessment of the defense? It seems like it's been inconsistent at times.
"It's funny, 'cause I've lived this in Chicago our first year in 2004. I thought we had a very talented team, but it's a scheme that it takes a lot of discipline and it takes time to learn. And, look: the one time you're not in a gap, that you don't have your vision and your eyes right, bad things happen. And I just think it's just the natural progression that we're going through. We have had games where we've been outstanding, and I think the players and the coaches will tell you that last week was not our best effort and we've gotta be better."
It looks like the Colts have more than $50 million in cap space. When, and on what, do you plan on using that money?
"This is one thing that I've been very consistent about since I walked in the door. I knew we needed to build a core base of young talent here. And it's easier to train your own. We want to be able to train our own players. Does that mean we're against free agency? No. It does not, and I think we have some examples on our team with Margus Hunt, Al Woods, (Denico) Autry, Ryan Grant, (Matt) Slauson . We've gone out. Is it the A-level guys that the media and everybody writes about? No, but these are good football players that we signed and we thought we got at good value for our team. And you want to continue doing that. I think sometimes just spending money to spend money — nah, that's not always the smart thing to do. And when you do build your team up with your own guys, and they get to their second contracts and you begin to reward them, that's when I think you'll start to see some of that cap space disappear. Is there a time that we could go into free agency and we see a piece that we think fits and it fits culturally, from not only from a scheme perspective, but also from a character perspective? When you bring a guy into your locker room and you him a highly-paid player, there's a lot more that comes with that than just playing on the field. That means that guy needs to do everything right because he's looked upon differently than the rest of the locker room."
What do you make about the difference free agents like Dontrelle Inman and Mike Mitchell have made in a short amount of time?
"Well, our pro scouting department did a great job with Mike Mitchell. I mean, (Jon) Shaw, our assistant director of pro scouting, had been on me for a while — (Shaw) and Todd Vasvari — and both of them had brought up Mike. And that's an example of adding a player who's got tremendous character. He not only impacts gameday on the field, but just every day in the building, what he stands for, how he prepares — he's been really good for our young players. And then you have Nick and Frank who had a relationship with Inman, knew what he stood for and knew that he had been in the offense, and even though the offense changed a little bit, some of it was still the same. So he's been able to seamlessly transition and be a nice piece for us here in the last couple weeks."
When do you start working on the upcoming draft? What are the biggest strengths of this upcoming class?
"Look: right when last year's draft ended, we started working on 2019 draft. You're just constantly working on it. And, look, you're even working on not only '19, but '20, because we're always looking at players — we're always looking at young players — just seeing who's coming through the system. You want to track 'em for a couple years, and we ask our scouts to do that. Look: we think it's going to be a very good defensive draft. It's going to be a heavy defensive draft. But, look, I always laugh when people say there's weaknesses; there's always players in the draft at every position. It's our job to find 'em; it's our job to find the right players for our scheme and for our system. People might not agree with it, but it matters what we think internally and how our coaching staff and our scouts and everybody getting on the same page. There's always players at every position, but this year the top of the draft is going to be pretty defensive-heavy."
You're at most practices, you're at all the Colts' games. How much college football do you personally get to see live?
"During the week, a lot of my time is spent with our team, you know, watching our team practice, watching it again on tape. I always get at least two days a week where I'm watching college tape. And then on the weekends, I try to get out every weekend — like this last week, I went and watched Colorado State and Wyoming, and then flew and watched Cal and Washington play. So I try to get out every weekend, especially when we're on the road, and see at least a game or two."
How do you decide where you want to go?
"You know, where they've got prospects. Division I teams. I mean, we cover every Division I team, whether people say they have a prospect or not. And I'm the same way: I've still got area scout in my heart, and so even though maybe Colorado and Wyoming don't have the higher-rated guys, it doesn't mean they don't have guys that are going to be really good players in the league."