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Chris Ballard On Third Quarter Of Season, Playoff Hopes, Andrew Luck's Standout Comeback Season

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard tonight joined host Matt Taylor on 1070 The Fan's "Colts Roundtable Live" to discuss the third quarter of the season for the Colts, as well as several other topics, including the play of quarterback Andrew Luck and what to make of the team's playoff hopes.

Here is that conversation in its entirety:

You had a pretty good third quarter of the season at 3-1, putting the team in the playoff hunt.

“Yeah, it’s been good, with the 1-5 start to be able to dig ourselves out of a hole and get ourselves in position to where we’ve got a chance to get into the playoffs.”

How tough was the loss to the Jaguars yesterday, considering the team was in the thick of it as far as the wild card race was considered?

“Well, No. 1, I think we’re still in the thick of it. And No. 2 — look, every loss is hard. And at anytime of the year — they’re all hard. The one thing we don’t wanna have is a momentum mentality, to whether, for example, where you’re riding a high off a win or riding the low point of a loss. Every Monday we come in, we evaluate what happened on Sunday, and then we move on. And that’s the mentality we’ve got to have every week, just working to get better. I know people think that’s just talk, but it’s the mentality in this league you have to have. It’s a week-to-week league, and you’ve gotta be able to reset each and every week and continue to get better. It’s the teams that get better and stronger through the year, those are the ones that usually have success.”

What did the Jaguars do in the last six quarters against the Colts compared to the first two quarters in the first meeting where you put up 29 points?

“Let’s don’t underestimate Jacksonville on defense. That is an excellent defensive football team. And they almost went to the Super Bowl last year with that defense. And I think they’ve played good defense this year. That’s not been their issue. I think the turnovers and offensively they’ve had some issues, but defensively, that’s not been a big issue. And usually when you have some struggles, it usually comes down to execution, and, for the last six quarters, they executed better than we did.”

We last talked at the halfway point of the season, and since then Andrew Luck has been on fire. Considering everything he’s gone through, how happy are you with his play this season?

“Very pleased. And I think I said this numerous times that, you know, after missing last year, not having any OTA practices, not much of an offseason — you know, practiced that last minicamp, but just a little bit, but being in meetings — but still not getting the live reps that you need, new coaching staff, new offense, a lot of new faces around him, we thought he was going to take some time. And what he did for that eight-week stretch, where three touchdowns a game — I don’t know exactly how many quarterbacks have done that in the past, but, yeah, it’s a pretty rare feat. So, no, very pleased how Andrew’s playing — not just how he’s playing, though, the leadership he’s bringing. Watching his growth game by game, how he deals with his teammates, how he prepares, how he demands excellence from ‘em, that’s been fun to watch.”

How tough was it to see Jack Doyle go on IR, and how difficult is it to replace a key piece like that?

“Well, look: Jack’s a heck of a football player. And there’s no question that we miss him, with his ability to block on the edge and add into the passing game. He was a valuable part of our offense. So he is a difficult player to replace. And then when Mo Alie-Cox, when he was being down — who is our other blocker — finding that guy on the edge on the line of scrimmage, to be able to control the line of scrimmage in the run game the way we want, it is hard. You saw us: Le’Raven Clark’s played some tight end, Joe Haeg played it this last weekend. So (Doyle’s) a difficult guy to replace, and we’ve just gotta keep finding ways to put players in position to add to the roles that he was used in on Sundays.”

What is your take on Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay’s rookie seasons?

“Look: very encouraged, by both of them. Kemoko, he was our starting right end for a lot early in the season, and we didn’t want to give him too much, being a rookie and playing (for the) first time in the NFL. (He’s) been nicked the last couple weeks, so his play time’s been limited a little bit, but very pleased and we think he’s still got big upside. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of what Turay can be. I think we’ll continue to see growth out of him. And what Tyquan’s been able to do with no training camp, his first padded game, he goes in and he has to start at right end because of injuries, was pretty impressive to watch. You know, eventually we’d like to end up playing him more inside, but for right now because of circumstances (Matt Eberflus is) having him play on the edge, and kind of baptism by fire. And I think this was his fourth game back, so to us it’s almost like this is his preseason. So I think we’re going to continue to see growth. He’s smart, he’s hard working, he stands for all of the things we want to stand for. And we think he’s got a big upside.”

What do the Colts need to do in the last quarter of the season to really make a push for the playoffs?

“Well, I said it earlier: week-by-week. You know, we want to go 1-0. And that’s the mindset each and every week. And then when you focus on that, at the end of the season the results will take care of themselves. You’ve put enough wins together and you’ve gotten better every week and you’ve done the things you’re supposed to do, all the playoff talk, all that works out in the long run.”

What are your thoughts on Frank Reich’s aggressive coaching style, especially on fourth downs?

“Look: I’m with it. We have a team of analytics (folks) here that do an excellent job, and I’m good with Frank being aggressive on fourth down. He puts a lot trust and faith to execute; unfortunately this last weekend we just didn’t execute. But there’s been other times in the season where we have.”

On defense, how do you feel about the third down dime package, and how that has helped the pass rush?

“Well, I mean, when you’re going dime we’re just adding a DB in the game, and it was Quincy (Wilson) when we did it, and it was good because we got a little bit bigger body on these tight ends to play, and Matt (Eberflus is) able to mix up the coverages a little bit in the back end, which I do think helps your rush. I mean, it all works together — rush and coverage.”

Speaking of Quincy Wilson, what are you seeing out of him this season and his maturity level increasing?

“I mean, like with any player, I think I’ve said this numerous times that these are young players that we’re bringing in. It’s our job to develop them. And they all develop at their own rate. And some of them struggle when they first come into the league, and some have instant success. But either way, you’ve gotta keep working with them each and every week to get better. And Quincy, to his credit, you know he had some struggles. But he worked, he was mentally tough, the addition of Mike Mitchell has been a big asset for Quincy — sometimes you can get a vet that’ll take a young guy under their wings and really show them the way — and I’m proud of Quincy. I’m proud of the way he’s played, I’m proud of the way he’s competed, and sometimes players (have) gotta look at the abyss down and not jump, and he didn’t jump. And it’s going to make him a better player, and a stronger player, going further in his career.”

And it seemed like that connection between Mike Mitchell and Quincy Wilson was very natural.

“Look: It’s a credit to both of ‘em. It’s a credit to Mike and what he stands for. Mike Mitchell stands for all the right things: he’s a leader, he works, he prepares, does everything you want a pro to do. And I think Quincy saw it and said, you know, let me tap into that.”

How pleased have you been with Evan Boehm filling in the last couple weeks for Ryan Kelly at center?

“Oh — really pleased. I thought the jump in his play from Week 1, when he played last week, to this week was big. He was steady the first week, but this week I thought he played exceptionally well.”

How do you manage the practice squad? It seems like players are coming and going quite frequently on that unit every single week.

“Look: we’re constantly looking to upgrade talent. And sometimes it has to do with injuries, so we’ll have an injury at a position and need to get a guy in, so it gives us the chance to look at another player. The more players you get a chance to look at, the better chance you have to hit.”

How do you see the 2017 and 2018 draft classes coming along? And where do you think the Colts should target picks in the upcoming draft?

“Well, with Malik (Hooker) — let’s take ’17 — with Malik Hooker, who started out like gangbusters, tore his ACL and I think just is now kind of rounding in to where his body is getting back. People say, they tell you nine months on an ACL, and I’ve always said it’s a year and a half, sometimes two, to really get them back to full speed. And I’m starting to see Malik, starting to see the movement and the explosion out of him here in the last couple of weeks. The development of Quincy (Wilson) we talked about. Grover Stewart, (Marlon) Mack, (Anthony) Walker — they’ve all been pretty good contributors for us — Nate Hairston, he got a little dinged up, but is now starting to get back healthy and feel healthy again. And I don’t wanna forget about Rigo Sanchez, who we signed as an undrafted free agent. And then Kenny Moore, who we claimed. All of those were important additions to the team. Mo Alie-Cox, who we signed as an undrafted free agent. So the ’17 class, just with the depth of it — to help us add depth and young talent was really good. And then you look at this year. We’re very pleased with Quenton Nelson and what he’s done, what he’s brought from a leadership standpoint, from a toughness standpoint. A (Darius) Leonard, (Kemoko) Turay, (Tyquan) Lewis — all those guys have done really well. So, no, we’re very pleased. And then for what we’re targeting — look: we’re gonna continue to press the button on every position, and early in the draft. I think one of the big mistakes you can make is if you pass up a great player at any position. You’ve got to always keep your mind open and can’t target in on just a specific need. You don’t want to pass up a special player. Quenton Nelson, I mean, it happened to be a need too, but Quenton Nelson would’ve been good no matter what. I mean, so don’t ever pass up a special player.”

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