INDIANAPOLIS — We're a quarter of the way through the 2018 season, which means it's time to hear from Chris Ballard.
The second-year Indianapolis Colts general manager tonight was a guest on 1070 The Fan's "Colts Roundtable Live," where he answered a multitude of questions about his thoughts on the team's progress so far, his hopes for the future, how quarterback Andrew Luck has progressed in his comeback, if the team would pursue any big names in free agent or via trade, and much more.
Here's the entire 10-minute conversation:
Overall, big picture a quarter of the season in, what have you made of the Colts' season so far?
Ballard: "Well, we've got a lot of work to do. When you're 1-3, you're evaluating everything you're doing to try to get the thing back on track again. I will say this: I really like the way our coaches and our team is preparing, I think our process is really good, the decisions we've made, the players we've acquired. And we're a very young team. So I'm very happy with that. I'm very happy with the effort that we're getting game in and game out. We've gotta clean up the (mistakes). The margin of error is so small in this league; any mistake that you make, whether it be penalty, turnover, dropped ball, those little mistakes cost you in a game. I mean, a lot of games are decided by one or two plays, and in our three losses we've had a chance to win all three of them, and it's some of the little mistakes that we've made that has kept us from finishing those games."
Were you on the same page as Frank Reich about going for it on fourth down inside your own territory late in overtime against the Houston Texans?
Ballard: "Absolutely. The situation in the game, the way we were playing offensively, the way Andrew (Luck) was playin', we thought they were tired on defense, and we thought we had a chance to finish the game out at that point. And, you know, I'll always support Frank and his staff of the decisions they make. They were aggressive — we're going to be aggressive. It's important for our players to know, 'Hey look, we're gonna take some shots, we're gonna take some chances.' And that's gonna lead to wins down the line here. And you've got to be prepared for it. And I think guys want to play for that. I mean, look: Frank's gotta go look those guys in the eye too, and I think it was a very gutsy call — didn't work out; sometimes it doesn't work out — when it doesn't, we come in the next day, we evaluate what we did and we move on."
How important is it to be aggressive to establish that in your culture?
Ballard: "Look: I think your culture is everything. I think it's everything. And I think I've talked a lot about this with our young players that we have. I mean, not only being aggressive and putting it on the players in terms of, 'Hey look, we're gonna take some chances here, and we're gonna put it on you to perform. We're gonna do it, and you have to do it in practice.' But from the way we do everything here — the way we practice, the way we study, the way we hold ourselves professionally, the way we support each other, the way we support our teammates and our coaches. Everything we do plays into the culture that we're building right now."
Have you had a heart attack yet in the press box with all of these close games? What's your evaluation of your skill players? And also how many apologies have you received for people criticizing the Darius Leonard pick?
Ballard: "First, every game is tight in this league. You know, every game comes down to a few plays, and if you just look at the league, when you get to the end of the fourth quarter, so that's part … I'm an emotional guy, too, so I'm on pins and needles — even the Washington game where we were up and I thought we had it won, I'm still on pins and needles. As for our young skill players, it's been fun to watch 'em play. I mean, Darius Leonard — I mean, look: people always have opinions. We took Darius Leonard for a reason, we took him high for a reason because we loved his talent, but he not only had talent he had the football character and the personal character that we wanted in a player. So we've very, very pleased with him. We think it's a shame, we had a couple skill players get hurt with Deon Cain and (Tyquan) Lewis, who we really liked early in camp and we thought they had big upside. You know, we'll see what happens here in the next month, if Lewis can get back — we hope he can — but we'll see, and Deon Cain's working hard to rehab. Kemoko (Turay) has really started to come on and put pressure on the passer like we think he can, and we think he's still got — you know, as he learns to really rush in this league — we think he's got really, really good upside. Both the running backs have flashed. I thought Nyheim (Hines) played really well this last week — you know, made a big play in the end zone on the wheel route, went over the top of (Tyrann) Mathieu and made a play — and then scored the touchdown to eventually give a chance at the two-point conversion to tie the game. So he's really niched out a nice role for us. And (Jordan) Wilkins, you know, against Washington, I thought Wilkins really played well and has had some really good flashes. You know, two guys that people don't really talk about are Matt Adams and Zaire Franklin, who both have been really strong on special teams. Zaire's played some games for us as SAM and is backing us up at MIKE, so, no, I like where these young players are going."
What have you made of Andrew Luck's performance so far this season, and where do you see him improving week to week?
Ballard: "Well, look: I'm very proud of Andrew. From the first day I walked in here, how he worked, his mental toughness, how he prepared. I think he's the ultimate competitor. I thought we saw that Sunday — I thought we've seen that every week. I think what everyone needs to understand, he's playing in a new offense that, really the first time he was exposed to live exposure was in training camp, and (is) getting used to that. I think he can make all the throws. I thought we saw that Sunday — I thought we saw it the first week vs. Cincinnati, quite honestly — and I think he's going to continue to grow and have a great career in Indy. Very lucky to have him, glad he's on our team, and excited to watch him continue to flourish."
With Thursday's game against the Patriots, is it just another game for you? Or does it mean more to you considering what happened in the offseason with Josh McDaniels?
Ballard: "No, it's just … hey, look: because of the history with New England — and, plus, their winning way; I mean, you're talking about one of the most successful franchises in the history of the league — you always want to go up against the best. And on a Thursday night, for our young players to go out and compete against a great team, great organization, we couldn't ask for a better way to kind of get this last game off and get this game here going against New England. As for being (anything related to McDaniels) — no. Not at all. It's just another game, and it's the New England Patriots, and we're happy to go play on Thursday night."
What's the team's plan for Robert Turbin this week? He's available to come back after being suspended the first four weeks of the regular season?
Ballard: "Well, we'll work through that this week, you know, here over the next couple days. He's got a roster exemption right now. We'll see where he's at during practice the next couple days, and then we'll make a decision."
Do you think you'll be in the market for big players like Dez Bryant or Le'Veon Bell, and why or why not?
Ballard: "Well, I mean, look: I'm not going to comment on players that aren't on our team right now. We're always looking — we're always looking to upgrade. I think you can see, just since the season's started at the cutdown we claimed a couple, and then we've picked up some that have hit the waiver wire here in the last week. So we'll always be looking at players around the league."
In the offseason you said the Colts needed to be more physical with AFC South teams. Did you feel like the Colts were better in that area on Sunday?
Ballard: "I think we're getting there. You know, our depth is, definitely on the offensive line, has definitely been tested with (Anthony) Castonzo out and then (J'Marcus) Webb and (Joe) Haeg going to IR. But I thought Le'Raven Clark and Denzelle Good both showed up. I've thought the interior of our offensive line has played really well, from Quenton (Nelson) and Ryan (Kelly) and (Matt) Slauson have all played good, physical football. And I think our front is starting to come on. I think we're second in the league at 17 sacks, which I'm very pleased with. (You're on pace to have 68 sacks this season) Well considering we had 25 (sacks) last year, so we're on pace to beat that. But, no, look: our defensive philosophy is about that front four, and they know it, and it's hard to win games if they're not getting after the passer with the ability to rush four."