Aug 13, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; A general view of the helmet of Indianapolis Colts tackle Anthony Castonzo (74) during the game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
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Newly hired Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard recently had his introduction press conference with the team on Monday.
Immediately, fans were able to see that Ballard is placing a heavy emphasis on teamwork, humility, and defense among other qualities within the Colts organization.
Here are 6 takeaways from Ballard’s Monday press conference:
Aug 22, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) waits along with other offensive players in the tunnel prior to being introduced for their pre-season game against the Chicago Bears at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
6. No One Trick Pony Show
While starting quarterback Andrew Luck is a lot of things: franchise quarterback, the Colts best player, and even the highest paid player in NFL history, he’s just one of many players on the Indianapolis roster.
Even though Luck has never once tried to place the spotlight solely on himself, sometimes it’s a byproduct of being one of the few bright spots on what’s otherwise been a pretty mediocre team over the past two seasons.
Ballard made sure to point out that even though Luck is a great player in his own right, that the Colts are placing an emphasis on teamwork with all 53–even 63 players playing together as one:
“Let me say this because Andrew (Luck) is a great player, but it will never be about one guy,” said Ballard on Monday. “It will never be about one guy. It’s about all 53 men in that locker room. It’s about all 63 men including the practice squad that we have. It will never be about one person. It will always be about the team.”
“And is he a good piece? Absolutely, but he’s just one of the 53 men that we have to go win with.”
“It’s about the team. Everything is always about the team. The best thing for the team.”
Sep 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano looks on in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
5. Chuck Pagano is the Head Coach for 2017
Despite speculation that Ballard sought to hire Kansas City Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub instead, incumbent Colts head coach Chuck Pagano will remain the franchise’s head coach–at least for 2017.
Even with multiple years remaining on his deal, Pagano is essentially a ‘lame duck’ next season, meaning the Colts have to show significant improvement in 2017–particularly on defense.
Whether Pagano was forced onto Ballard by team owner Jim Irsay–we may never know, but the Colts new general manager at least made the appearance that there was never an issue of whether Pagano wasn’t the guy going forward next season:
“There was no other options,” said Ballard. “Chuck Pagano. Chuck Pagano is a good football coach in the National Football League. Three 11-5 seasons, went to the AFC Championship Game, had two 8-8’s back-to-back, but he’s won 49 games. We need to keep our eye on how hard it is to win in this league. It is hard to win, and he’s won 49 games in the National Football League.”
“No, it was Chuck Pagano and his staff, and we’re rolling.”
In fact, Ballard later mentioned just how important the head coach, general manager dynamic truly is–something that clearly doomed the Ryan Grigson, Chuck Pagano pairing in recent seasons:
“It’s essential,” added Ballard on head coach, general manager cohesiveness. “So I just left a place where John Dorsey and Andy Reid are tied at the hip, and they make decisions together. Me and Chuck will make decisions together for the best interests of the Indianapolis Colts.”
Oct 9, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA;Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) and Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) embrace after their victory over the Chicago Bears at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
4. The Tape Tells You Everything
While Ballard is expected to utilize analytics much more than his Colts predecessor, it still appears as though he’s a firm believer in the ‘eye ball’ test above anything else.
It’s easy to see that the Colts best players such as Luck and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton consistently flash on the film.
That being said, Ballard does appear to want to significantly use analytics as a tool to potentially help corroborate what he’s seeing on ‘the tape”:
“Look, the tape tells you everything,” said Ballard. “I’m into analytics. There’s some stuff we’ll do with analytics just to kind of bring our decision-making into focus, but the tape tells you everything, and I’m telling you the really good ones pop off that tape. Fast, and they do it consistently.”
Oct 2, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) reacts after game 15 of the NFL International Series against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium. The Jaguars defeated the Colts 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
He’s admittedly said that he may not be quite ready to be a general manager, but that he’ll ‘figure it out’ just like he always has.
Even if he does a mistake, Ballard said that he’ll ‘own it’ and presumably learn from it and simply move forward:
“Let me put it this way,” said Ballard. “I’m probably not completely ready to be a GM. I’m going to screw some things up. I’m going to make some mistakes, and I’ll own them.”
“But I’ll say this, I wasn’t ready to coach Al Harris–who played in the National Football League for 14 years when I coached the secondary…but I figured it out, I wasn’t ready to be an area scout but I figured it out, I wasn’t ready to be a director of pro personnel…I figured it out, I wasn’t ready to be a director of player personnel…I figured it out.”
“I’ve got enough good people around me that they’re going to help guide me along the way, and one of my real strengths is that hey, when I make a mistake, I own it. It’s on me. I’ll never put the blame off.”
Sep 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Indianapolis Colts strong safety Mike Adams (29) and inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (52) and strong safety Clayton Geathers (26) tackle Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson (22) in the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
2. Defense Wins Championships
The biggest issue on the Colts is clearly their defense, which has consistently ranked in the bottom half of the league and is devoid of young talent.
Outside of veteran cornerback Vontae Davis, the Colts defense simply lacks stars.
It was refreshing to hear that Ballard is placing the greatest emphasis on defense–something that has been sorely lacking.
“Defense wins championships, and I know you’ve got to score points, but I’ve been blessed to work in two places in this league when we’ve been pretty special on defense, Chicago and Kansas City,” added Ballard.
“So, that definitely is a priority.”
Not to mention, a heavy focus on improving in the trenches on both offense and defense, as the Colts offensive line has to get better as well:
“Look, in this league you win upfront. You win on the o-line, d-line, and if you’re not good upfront, it’s very difficult when you get into December football. December, January football.”
Nov 6, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) high fives center Ryan Kelly (78) during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
1. Homegrown for the Horseshoe
While free agency can certainly help fill a select number of holes, it can’t be the primary source for building a competitive NFL roster.
In recent seasons, the Colts have heavily relied on veteran free agent signings to fill their roster, and it simply hasn’t worked out in their favor more often than not.
From that stance, the Colts drastically need to improve ‘their farm system’ by making better selections consistently in the NFL Draft.
With a strong scouting background, Ballard appears to know his stuff as it relates to the draft process–having been credited with helping find a number of stars with both the Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs.
It appears that the Colts under Ballard may pick-and-choose their battles in free agency regarding certain players, but for the most part, the new general manager wants to make this Indianapolis roster younger and much more ‘homegrown’:
“You want to raise your own,” said Ballard. “We want to be a great drafting team. We want to have a sound structure and foundation in place where we’re producing players every year for the Colts. You have to. You have to produce 3-4 guys that are going to help you every single year.”
“Now saying that, between street free agents, between waiver claims, we’ll get into free agency a little bit, but you can’t buy a locker room. You have to be very careful when you enter into free agency, but we’re going to try to acquire as many young players that we can to field a competitive roster. We want the most competitive roster we can get. That’s how you get great.”
“That’s how you get to be special as a team, when daily they have to go out there and compete to get better.”