INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center is usually brimming with excitement this time each year, as the Indianapolis Colts are making final tweaks to their big board and quadruple checking every possible scenario heading into the annual NFL Draft.
But take a quick drive by the Colts' facility nowadays, and one might wonder if the place has been completely abandoned.
The Colts, of course, aren't immune to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has changed the way people are living — and doing business — across the world. But with this year's NFL Draft (and pretty much every other aspect of the league's offseason) going on as scheduled, general manager Chris Ballard, head coach Frank Reich and their staffs have had to figure out ways to adjust on the fly to ensure this year's draft goes off without a hitch, despite all the unique challenges they're facing.
And for Colts Productions' "With The Next Pick," the show must go on — quite literally.
Tonight's episode, the third so far this season, provides a terrific look at the way the Colts were preparing for the draft just before the stay-at-home and social distancing measures were put into place, and exactly how the group has rebounded and got back to business through the use of technology over the last few weeks.
You can catch the entire episode here, with some highlights below:
» Tonight's episode begins with terrific perspective from Ballard about what everyone, not just the Colts, are currently facing. As you see shots all around an empty Colts facility, Ballard says: "There's always light in the darkness. We're in unprecedented times right now. We're concerned about what's going on in the outside world. People are suffering. The only way we're going to get this problem solved is by paying attention to what the experts are telling us. We figure it out. When problems occur and obstacles occur, we figure it out."
» Some colleges were able to hold their respective pro days just before the stay-at-home measures were put into place across the league in mid-March, and our cameras were riding shotgun with Jamie Moore, the Colts' Southeast area scout, as he attended pro days at Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State University and Clemson on March 11 and 12. Those days are long — "In the Southeast, if you ain't in the school by 7:30 (a.m.), you're late," he says — but Moore, who has been with the Colts going 14 years, wouldn't want to be doing anything else.
"I'm very fortunate to to be able to do what I do," Moore said. "You wake up every day and do football, man."
» Moore tends to run the vertical jump station wherever he goes. The instructions are pretty straightforward, but even something as simple as telling a prospect to jump as high as they can comes with potential evaluation opportunities.
"I give out the instruction on how to do the vertical jump, like, 'Listen man, it's real simple.' It's how fast can they adapt and apply that information?" Moore said. "There's a certain way we want things done, and you want guys that can follow directions the first time. You should take note of it, just like you do everything else."
» Moore is one of several area scouts that are entrusted by Ballard and the Colts to not only go out and find the team's next batch of talent, but to cultivate relationships with a variety of sources to paint the most accurate picture of every prospect that ends up being discussed in the draft room.
What sets Moore apart to Ballard, though?
"He's a freaking pitbull," Ballard said. "Jamie has a voice because he lets it be heard. He's passionate about every guy he scouts. He goes A to Z on all of 'em. … He's detailed, he's organized. The hours he puts in, the days he puts on the road. There's so many players and so many schools that have to be covered, and they're not just one-day, two-day visits."
» Clemson's Pro Day is a doozy, because you already know going in you're going to be looking at many, many top prospects in the upcoming draft.
"This is one of the premier programs in the country's pro day," Moore said. "You're going to see a lot of really good athletes, and you're going to see a lot of guys who are really competitive.
"Obviously we're looking for consistency," Moore continues. "You know, the pro day and then the Combine and then, obviously, when they come to Indianapolis hopefully they'll perform. And that's why we seek that consistency. … We're now at the point of the process where it's elimination. Some of these guys we can eliminate and put 'em in a different category and really focus in on the guys that can come in and be Colts."
» And then … everything changed. Many teams, including the Colts, started pulling their scouts off the road, colleges began canceling pro days, and, eventually, word came down from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that all team facilities were to remain closed for the foreseeable future and that the 2020 NFL Draft would go on as scheduled — just in a virtual format with everybody working separately from home.
The Colts' scouting and coaching staffs stayed on their toes and quickly got set up in their own homes, where they've been able to conduct daily meetings via video conferencing.
And, of course, "With The Next Pick" is able to provide an exclusive look into how that adjustment has gone.
"How we doin'?" Ballard asks as he opens up one of his first video conference meetings with the staff. "Look, this is going to be trying times here for the next couple months. It's gonna be different, you're going to have family members that are suffering.
"We're all in this thing together," he continued. "I tell you this all the time — and not just us, it's our families, our wives our kids. All of us are affected by every decision we make."
» While it's certainly been different, the Colts have settled into their new norm quite well. While nothing beats being able to physically sit in the draft room together, the work that's being done leading up to this week's draft, Ballard says, has been excellent.
"I wanna tell you all: the work y'all are doing right now, it's as good as it's been done since I've been here," he tells his staff in a recent video conference. "It's freaking outstanding. It's high-quality. I know it's not easy and I know it's hard … when we get this thing lined up right, it's gonna be because of all the time you've been putting in at home, and I freakin' appreciate it and can't thank you enough. It just tells to who this group is, to no matter what the circumstances are we're gonna find a way to overcome it."
» And, of course, the jokes don't stop just because the guys are separated. Some of my favorite comments:
Ballard: "Oh Jamie, did you decorate your closet? … You’re like George Costanza when he builds his nap place under his desk."
Chad Henry: "I thought this guy was really good. He was my best guy."
Ed Dodds: "You're our best guy today, 'cause it's your ------- birthday."
Henry: "You know you're getting old when the candles cost more than the cake."
Perhaps the star of the show for Episode 3, however, is Dodds' dog, Finn — the "Assistant to the Assistant GM."
Dodds: "My dog's gonna be on 'With The Next Pick!'"
Ballard: "It'll be like the orangutan."
(Ballard, of course, is referring to Rocky the Orangutan revealing the team's fourth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft from the Indianapolis Zoo:)