INDIANAPOLIS —Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard on Wednesday spoke to reporters via video conference as the team begins training camp. What's the latest on the Colts' efforts to thwart COVID-19, potential roster cuts, position battles of note and more?
You can catch that entire session above, but here are some highlights:
» Ballard acknowledges all the outside factors that will make for a "very interesting" 2020 season, but said the Colts are doing "everything we can to mitigate risk" for COVID-19: After a completely-virtual offseason program, training camp is officially underway in various stages at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. By next week, most of the 90-man roster should be able to start participating in workouts at the team facility, and from there, the group will slowly work its way into more and more on-field work to get ready for the start of the regular season.
Ballard said head trainer Dave Hammer has taken on the league-mandated team position of infection control officer, and that the team's facility, as well as its normal protocols, have underwent massive changes.
"You have no idea what the past two months have been like trying to navigate everything that needed to be done to our building," Ballard said.
Those changes have included new team and position meeting room set-ups, to moving the weight room around to adjusting various offices and workstations and much more.
And while it's an accepted fact that some people are just going to test positive for COVID-19 over the next few months — and when they do, the protocols in place should help prevent any sort of outbreak — Ballard said he has a high level of trust in the players, coaches and staff that they'll do everything they can on their end to prevent exposure to the disease.
"There's gonna be sacrifices that are gonna have to be made by all of us," said Ballard, who mentioned the fact he's already told friends and family they won't be able to come visit during the season like usual. "It's the ultimate test of discipline right now."
Testing, contact tracing, social distancing, constant sanitizing and mask wearing will be the law for anybody setting foot in the Colts' facility.
"Put a damn mask on," Ballard said, talking about the public in general. "Why is that so hard? It's not about you. It's about everybody else."
» The Colts' offseason roster will remain at 90 players — for now: Part of the agreement between the league and the NFLPA to get training camp and the 2020 season started on time was a measure to eventually trim the usual 90-man offseason rosters down to 80 players at some point during training camp.
Basically, the teams had two options heading into Tuesday's training camp report date for veterans: either immediately reduce your offseason roster from 90 to 80 players by the start of camp on Tuesday, or have the ability to begin camp with 90 players on the roster but conduct various team activities in a "split-squad" format, and then cut down to 80 players no later than Aug. 16, the day before padded practices are allowed to begin.
The Colts opted not to cut down to 80 players on Tuesday; as of this moment, 87 players are considered to be on the active roster, with one (safety Julian Blackmon) on the Active/Non-Football Injury list, and three others (tight end Mo Alie-Cox and defensive ends Jegs Jegede and Kemoko Turay) on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list. Two other players — wide receiver Malik Henry and cornerback Jackson Porter — are currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and do not count towards the active roster.
Ballard said he's going to take the next five to 10 days to determine when and how to cut down the roster to 80 players by the Aug. 16 deadline.
» No Colts players at this point have decided to opt out of the 2020 season: Another agreement put into place between the NFL and the NFLPA heading into training camp was the ability for players to opt out of playing the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether opting out voluntarily or because of various high-risk factors, players have until Tuesday to make that decision.
Already more than 25 players across the league have announced their intention to opt out this year, but Ballard said as of today, no Colts players have expressed that possibility with him.
While that is obviously subject to change at any time, the Colts, as of now, are expecting to move forward with a full roster.
» A lack of preseason games doesn't mean the team won't have competitive situations before the start of the regular season: The NFL and NFLPA also agreed to canceling the entire slate of preseason games this year to help minimize any unneccesary COVID-19 exposure.
To help make up for lost time, the Colts and every other team can begin a series of no more than 14 padded practices on Aug. 17, and Ballard said he expects those sessions, especially, to be ultra competitive at the team's West 56th Street facility in Indy.
While live, fully-padded practices have been the norm under head coach Frank Reich the last two training camps, Ballard said, "We'll probably have two or three occasions where we really just get after it" this time around.
"You're gonna see more physical practices in spurts, just so we can get ourselves ready to go, and so we can be able to evaluate."
Ballard is also looking forward to figuring out ways to develop the younger players on the roster who might not be considered starters or key backups at the moment, but will be counted on to build what amounts to an extended practice squad that will be utilized during the regular season.
Sure, the later-round draft picks and the undrafted rookies might not get as many reps this year as they might have during a normal training camp, but that doesn't mean the cream still can't rise to the top in some cases.
"If they're talented like we think they are — and even the the undrafted free agents — they'll show," Ballard said. "If we think they'll play a role and make it, they'll make the team."
» And how about the roster itself?: Ballard pointed at three areas in particular when asked if there were any position groups that are particularly intriguing to him entering camp.
First, Ballard raved about the Colts' linebackers; when it comes to starters Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker and Bobby Okereke, he said, "I think we can compare 'em to anybody in the league. And they're all young and athletic and fast — everything we want."
The depth at the position with guys like E.J. Speed, Matthew Adams, Zaire Franklin and 2020 sixth-round pick Jordan Glasgow should make for an extremely competitive atmosphere over the next few weeks, Ballard added.
He also noted he's eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see the impact defensive tackle DeForest Buckner has on the defensive front — and just the entire unit, itself. The Colts in March sent their first-round (13th-overall) pick to the San Francisco 49ers to acquire Buckner, who at just 26 years old is already considered one of the best players at his position in the league.
And, finally, Ballard noted he'll be keeping a close eye on the kicking competition between Chase McLaughlin and undrafted rookie Rodrigo Blankenship.
"We're gonna have to find ways to make sure that we create enough competition in pressure situations for both McLaughlin and Blankenship," Ballard said. "Frank (Reich) and (his) staff have a plan for it, but that's going to be an interesting one to watch."