Chris Ballard On Luck's Progression, Hooker's Preseason Debut, Standout Rookies And More

Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard today joined 1070 The Fan's Dan Dakich, and discussed a variety of topics as his team continues the training camp grind and prepares for its first preseason game.

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WESTFIELD, Ind. —Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard today joined 1070 The Fan's Dan Dakich, and discussed a variety of topics as his team continues the training camp grind and prepares for its first preseason game:

On if Ballard believes he has the athleticism he wants on the roster yet:

"Not yet. We're not there yet. No. No. Saying that … and, look, it's a week into camp, and it's no different than (when) guys ask me about the depth charts. I mean, we haven't played a game; we've had four padded practices. I think we need to get through that and see. I think we've got some young athletic talent and some guys with some upside, but you want to get to a point where you don't have any concerns about any part of the roster being talented enough yet."

On a player like Antonio Morrison, and the fans' perspective vs. what he sees:

"Let me tell you what: we had a great meeting last night with our coaching staff, and Frank Gore said something to me when he left the building; he said, 'Chris, don't ever underestimate what a guy that works and who's got toughness — real toughness — and what he brings to your team.' And I don't want to undervalue Antonio in that way. Does he have the foot speed and the athleticism that you always want? No. But, saying that, he's learning how to overcome some of his deficiencies, and he does that with the way he studies, how hard he plays — all that stuff helps him to survive."

"And you know, what Antonio brings — and just to our special teams units, the leadership he brings, the toughness he brings … he's an important element to the team."

On the importance of this year's draft class:

"It's really important. And look: we've gotta get some young foundational pieces here. I've said that all along. I held back in free agency because of that; I wanted to make sure we get some young pieces that we can build around. How do you do that? Well, you've gotta draft, and you've gotta allow them to play. So it's a big year for this group; it's a big year for last year's group, too. We need to be able to get draft classes together and get one, two, three and stack those classes together to get us a core group in that locker room that can teach the way we want things to be done."

On the rookies that have impressed him so far through the first few camp practices:

"Well, (Quenton) Nelson's been very good. He's been very good. Look: (Braden) Smith's been good, too. And we've asked Smith to play right tackle, which, I've gotta be honest with you, I didn't envision that when we took him. But he's gone out to right tackle and he's held up good. It'll be interesting to see how he holds up in the preseason games. (Kemoko) Turay's been really good. He's brought everything we thought he would bring in terms of athleticism, speed and ability to pressure on the edge. He's got to learn how to rush and consistently rush against good tackles, but he's been really good. I think a guy that's gonna be fun to watch is (Tyquan) Lewis from Ohio State. We've moved him to the three technique, and we're gonna keep him at the three technique. We think he's an ideal fit for what we want at the position — a guy who can penetrate, who can run. He's got all the right stuff in terms of character, now; and, I mean, everything he brings to the table in terms of work ethic, what he stands for, he's been fun to watch. And then our sixth-round pick Deon Cain's been quite exciting to watch here this first week out of camp."

On the importance of getting a good endorsement from a prospect's college coach:

"It makes it a lot easier to make the pick. We got the same endorsement of Nelson. And, look: I mean, we've emphasized with the locker room, we've talked about it since Frank (Reich) walked in the door … look: coaching can take you so far; the locker room takes you and puts you over the top. And you've gotta have a locker room that can challenge each other, doesn't accept being average, that wants to push when it gets hard; when things get hard, when problems arise, they are the police officers. They're the ones that solve the problems. And we've got to get those kind of kids in here."

On his evaluation of safety Clayton Geathers through his injuries, and getting Geathers and Malik Hooker back from the PUP list:

"Well, he was a really good player before he got hurt. … He was one of the guys I identified coming in; you know, young player, great character, had a chance to be a core player. Unfortunately, the neck injury and then we had setback with the knee at the end of last year; we had to get surgery and that's been a little bit of a setback. But, look, the reason we took both of them off: they're both very close. Would I say they're there yet? No. The rules, when you're on PUP, is you can't participate in any walkthrough practices. You can't go stand out there and mentally get reps with your teammates, and they both were at a point — with Hooker really being about a week away from really being able to engage again; they can do individual drills — but that walkthrough practice is critical. And our defense does a bunch of walkthroughs; a lot of their meeting time is on the grass, and they do a lot of walkthrough stuff. So being able to just get those guys involved a little bit earlier is going to be beneficial."

On what the nine-month period post-surgery means for Hooker's ACL injury:

"It means the statistics drop to where you're gonna have the second knee injury. Does it guarantee success? No; it doesn't. But that's the point where we think we can really start to push him ahead. (Put him in pads?) That's right. Yeah. That's right."

On if he thinks Hooker can play in the preseason opener:

"No. I don't anticipate him playing in the first two preseason games. I think we've targeted San Francisco (the third preseason game)."

On the value of padded, physical practices:

"Look: it's football. You've gotta play. You've gotta play the game. And you've gotta practice. And you've gotta practice hard; you've gotta practice physical. I mean, that's just the way I was raised in this game, all the way back to college when you go back to Barry Alvarez. I mean, you've gotta play the game hard. It's a hard game; it's a physical game. We've gotta be smart. We had a really hard one the other day, now, where we got after it — Frank got after it for two straight hours, and then he backed off of 'em yesterday. I think tonight we'll have some more live period, from what I understand. So, you know, we're not gonna do it every day, but we're gonna have some padded practices. I mean, that's how young players get better. That's how you learn to keep your pad level down. That's when you learn to tackle correctly with your head. And you can't just hope to turn the lights on on Sunday and expect good things to happen if you haven't practiced it."

On the new leading-with-the-helmet penalties in the NFL and how the Colts are addressing it:

"Well, the good things is, like, our defensive staff teaches a hamstring tackle, which takes the helmet out of play. … Well, it's where you're gonna keep your head up and it's more of a low-style attack with a helmet to the side. So there's none of the face-up — you're trying to avoid the face-up tackling. Where it helps you is when you're tackling in space. Officials are actually here right now. They had a meeting with the players yesterday, and it's gonna be a big emphasis this year taking the helmet out of play."

"I do like it. I do like it. And I think it's good for the game."

On his evaluation of quarterback Andrew Luck so far through training camp:

"His accuracy is good. I wouldn't say (his arm strength is) at top level yet, no. His accuracy is already at top level. If I could tell you the most impressive thing I've seen out of him is his accuracy. I mean, I haven't seen him. This is my first exposure to a live Andrew, other than when I got to play against him twice, but his accuracy is pretty special. And that was the one thing I was surprised came back so fast, but his ball placement and his anticipation, it's pretty unique."

On if he'd rather have a quarterback with a strong arm or a quarterback with accuracy:

"Accuracy. Absolutely. No, accuracy. Accuracy. Anticipation and accuracy. Being able to anticipate windows, anticipate throws, knowing when to let go of the ball when a guy's coming out of a break, that's way more important than arm strength."

On his evaluation of the Colts' running backs:

"Really happy. Yeah, really happy. Excited about the way this first week's gone with Marlon (Mack) — excited about the whole group, to be honest with you. I mean, Mack, he's come off the shoulder (injury) really well. He played with it all last year — he hurt it during camp last year, during training camp, and played with it all year, and I give the kid a lot of credit for battling through the year and continuing to develop as a young player through that injury. And then our two young kids — (Jordan) Wilkins has been impressive, especially the other day in our short-yardage/goal line, he showed us some slither and things to be able to find some creases and run with some strength that was good to see. And then (Nyheim) Hines — Hines is gonna be an explosive player for us; I think as a returner, and then as a gadget player. And then our other backs — the whole group has been good all together."

On his comfort level with the Colts' offensive line:

"Until we play, until we get into it and really play, am I more comfortable right now than I was during the (previous) season? Absolutely. I screwed that up last year. I should've addressed it. I should've addressed it; I didn't address the depth. That's on me. That's not on the coaches, not on the players — that's my fault. … Depth. You know, get depth. I think in free agency and then in the draft I probably should've identified it. And, I mean, look: it's a fundamental core belief of what I've been taught in this league, and the way I've grown in this league, is you win up front. We're gonna start from the inside out and build it, and I didn't do that. And it taught me a great lesson that we're gonna fix it, we're gonna fix this interior. We had (Anthony) Castonzo, who we thought played really good football and we think he's got good football in front of him; we had Joe Haeg and (Denzelle) Good who we think can develop into solid right tackles. So I knew we needed to address the interior of the offensive line. And, look: when your quarterback can step up in the pocket, it helps your tackles, and to be able to set that and give Andrew and Jacoby (Brissett) a chance to step up in the pocket, we thought that was very important.

On the effect of a quarterback being able to step up into the pocket and make plays:

"It makes a huge difference. And, look, it makes a huge difference in your tackles' play, too, because now they don't have to be as concerned … they just gotta push guys by, and I think it's gonna make a big difference in our pass protection."

On outside criticism of taking a guard, Nelson, at No. 6-overall in the NFL Draft:

"A great player is a great player, no matter the position. It doesn't matter. Doesn't matter. Doesn't matter. … I worry about our perception internally, what it is. Great player's a great player."

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