INDIANAPOLIS — Chris Ballard, like most people across the National Football League, is looking forward to the chance to recharge his batteries a bit over the next few weeks.
But don't get things twisted — Ballard is itching for the start of training camp, too.
After a busy, and productive, offseason — one that saw the Indianapolis Colts hire a new head coach a brand new coaching staff, as well as bring in a franchise modern-era-high 11-player NFL Draft class — Ballard has been satisfied with the work of the team through the offseason workout program, which concludes today with the third and final day of mandatory minicamp.
Yet, it's next month's training camp — and the addition of padded practices and preseason games — that will really give Ballard and the Colts an opportunity to see what they've got as they head into the 2018 season.
"I'm pleased with what I've seen so far, but we have a long way to go," Ballard told Colts.com's Bob Lamey this week. "You know, this game's played in pads, and until we get the pads on, that's when the real evaluation starts."
Ballard had more to say on that topic, as well as several others in his one-on-one conversation with Lamey. Here's the entire transcript:
On if he's happy or satisfied with the progress of the team so far this offseason:
"You know, we're going to have a young team. But it's been fun to watch — it's fun to be a part of building a team. And we know just from a talent standpoint we needed to add talent. We think we did that through the draft. I think we'll know better when we get into camp. You know, this time of year, when we're not in pads, I really temper my feelings. This is a learning time for all our players — all of them; vets, rookies. They've got to understand the pace that our new coaching staff wants to play at, the conditioning levels that they need to be at, and I think they understand that now. Eleven good weeks of work — it's fun to watch, you know, guys' bodies change, getting used to the amount of running that we're going to do in practice, and that's going to continue and that's going to continue through the season."
On if there have been any rookies that have impressed him so far:
"You know, until we get the pads on, this is a hard … when you're a rookie, you've been training for the Combine, training for your workouts and not training to play football. I use this period, to me, is them getting acclimated to pro football. From the time they're drafted in May we put them through a comprehensive rookie program, teaching them what it means to be a Colt, what it means to be an NFL player and the responsibility that comes with that, along with learning the conditioning level that you need to be in, learning a playbook — we're throwing a lot at 'em. I'm pleased with what I've seen so far, but we have a long way to go. You know, this game's played in pads, and until we get the pads on, that's when the real evaluation starts."
On his feelings about the new coaching staff:
"Well, I feel really good about our head coach, Frank, and his leadership and what he's brought to this building, just in terms of seeing the big picture and how it all works. I mean, he looks from an overhead view and sees it all, so I'm excited about that. I'm excited about the staff he's put together. You know, offensively with a young staff, but with Nick (Sirianni), watching him grow into being a really good offensive coordinator, watching him and Frank work together putting the offense together, it's been fun to watch. We've got enough experience on the staff that I think is good, with (running backs coach) Tom Rathman and our O-line coach (Dave DeGuglielmo), who I really like — both Bobby Johnson and Guge both have a lot of experience in this league, and watching them work together. And we've got some other young coaches that we're excited about. And then defensively, I knew what (defensive coordinator) Matt Eberflus was going to bring; I knew who he was trained under — Rod Marinelli — I've lived in that system for nine years in Chicago when Ron Rivera ran it, and then when Lovie (Smith) was heavily involved the whole time, and then when Rod was there. So I knew what was going to be expected from our defensive players, and it's been fun to watch them, the tempo of practice, the speed of practice, the emphasis on effort and turnovers, has been fun to watch. And look: that translates into games, when you play and you practice that way."
On if there's any news on some of the injured players not participating in practices during the offseason program:
"Look, when guys are hurt, we're always going to do the right thing for the player to try to get him back healthy. We're not going to put anybody out on the field that's not ready to go. You know, we want them 100-percent healthy and feeling good about themselves, so when they hit the field they can perform and show us what they can do. Now, two of the main guys — (Clayton) Geathers and (Malik) Hooker — you know, watching them rehab, we feel good about where they're at. We'll see when we get back to training camp if both of them are ready to go. With Erik (Swoope), our tight end, getting him back for training camp — he's coming along good right now. We'll see when they report to camp what kind of shape they're in and physically if they're ready to hit it, and if they are, we'll get them up runnin' and goin'."
On the importance of quarterback Andrew Luck getting out and throwing at practice:
"Look, I've said this a few times: Andrew's got a process that he's … and us (are) helping him go through, and it's just part of the process with stepping out. And, look, you've gotta get reps. He knows that, and he's worked his tail off to get to where he is right now. But, look, until Andrew runs out of that stadium and starts playing again, we're all gonna get the question. We accept that; it is what it is. We just kind of embrace where we're at right now, and we keep building on it. I know it's been a learning experience and a growth period for Andrew, and it's been a growth period for us, too, organizationally to help him through this and watch him go through this — and help guide him through this — but, look, a lot of credit goes to Andrew and the team of trainers and strength staff and people that he's been working with to get him to a point to where he is right now."
On if rookie wide receiver Deon Cain has flashed so far:
"Well, I mean, he does. Deon's a very talented athlete. We've got to get to where we watch him in practice when we get the pads on and then get in games and produce. But he's a very talented young man, and he's an exciting player for our fans to watch going forward."
On the Colts' approach to live hitting during training camp:
"Well, I think it'll be like anything I've ever been a part of. I mean, Frank, we both believe that you've gotta hit, you've gotta be physical, you've gotta get yourself ready for the season. And, look: we'll have days where we'll be more physical. We won't go out there and bang heads everyday like we did back 10, 15 years ago, and we'll be smart about it, but, look, you've gotta get yourself ready to play football, and you do that with the pads on and by being physical. And, look: we're building this thing up front, and we expect our O-line and D-line to be good for us — they have to be good for us to win. And to have any kind of success late into December, January, you've gotta be good up front. So we will have some spirited practices. It'll be good for our fans to watch."
On if he'll take some time for himself during the break between minicamp and training camp:
"This is what we do, so you never lose touch of where you're at. And we emphasize to our players how important it is, you know, to just build upon what they've built upon the last 11 weeks. And it's always in the back of your mind. But, look: this next five weeks, I'll definitely take some time and be with my family and get away and relax and kind of recharge the batteries for the next 10, 11-month push that we're gonna have."