Chris Ballard: Rebuilding the Colts

BY ADRIAN JARDING | Ball State Sports Link
I had to articulate my thoughts on this. I will always offer my initial reaction or thoughts when it comes to the Indianapolis Colts, but when it comes to the NFL Draft and season previews/recaps, I always need to spend some time refining my thoughts.

The Colts were in desperate need to rebuild the franchise after the 2-14 campaign in 2011, in which Peyton Manning had shoulder surgery. Head coach Jim Caldwell and general manager Bill Polian were fired and it was a perfect time to bring in some fresh faces as the roster at that time was full of veterans past their prime.

Along came Ryan Grigson, and from the very start he refused to say the r-word: rebuild. His first draft did bring in many players who contributed immediately, but upon further review it did not bring any longevity aside from Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton.

Chris Ballard became the Colts general manager after Ryan Grigson was fired for failing to build the franchise. (Photo: Matt Kryger/IndyStar)

Second-round pick Coby Fleener is now with a new team and was largely disappointing, fifth-round pick Josh Chapman was waived in 2015 and the rest didn’t offer anything besides Vick Ballard for a few games his rookie year. Luck and Hilton were the only two hits and essentially became the new Manning and Harrison. Aside from them, the 2012 draft was a flop.

Grigson was fired after the 2016 season and throughout his five seasons as the general manager, he failed to reshape this team. Instead he brought in too many veterans who were past their prime and failed to build a young team through the draft. Too many picks were used to select science projects and accessories when the team needed airs bags and insurance.

The first thing Chris Ballard needed to do when owner Jim Irsay chose him to be the new general manager was to make the Colts younger. He was pretty active in free agency, but he only signed players who filled immediate holes and are not long term solutions. This is fine as long as this pattern continues.

Normally I am pretty anxious about the draft because it’s been too long since the Colts have had a productive one. This year I found myself rather relaxed and not too concerned about it. As it got closer to their pick though, I found myself very worried.

Alabama’s Reuben Foster was still on the board and every Colts fan on Twitter wanted him. I was in the very small minority that wanted to steer clear because of his past character issues. The last thing this franchise needs is another distraction — on or off the field.

The reason for this was Houston selected Deshaun Watson and the fans wanted someone to counterbalance this.

First off, this mode of thinking has never worked. Watson will be somewhat of a project for Bill O’Brien as his system can be brutal on quarterbacks, but we’ll see. I’m not too concerned as a Colts fan because O’Brien is under a lot of pressure to win now.

Regardless, Foster is a player who did not get an invite to the draft because of an incident at the NFL Combine, in which he reportedly got into an argument with a medical worker. I’m guessing the fine folks at IU Health in Indianapolis probably wouldn’t have hit it off with him too well if he were to return.

When the commissioner read the Colts’ selection, I was relieved to hear something other than Foster. Malik Hooker was selected 15th overall, and my reaction was positive.

I’m a bit concerned with his health, because he is coming off a hernia injury, and he has a knock that he struggles tackling. On the other hand, I was surprised to see the reaction to this pick from the experts. Many compared him to future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, whom head coach Chuck Pagano coached in his time in Baltimore.

Malik Hooker (middle) was the Colts first round pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. (Photo: Matt Kryger/IndyStar)

Hooker and second round pick Quincy Wilson were immediate upgrades and will both be day one starters. Wilson was rated by many as one of the best corners in the draft and essentially fell into the Colts’ lap.

I’m also excited to see the fourth-round pick of Marlon Mack out of South Florida. I think between him, Frank Gore and Robert Turbin this could be an effective ground game to take some burden off Luck. Mack also offers some breakaway speed the Colts have not had in the backfield since Marshall Faulk in 1998.

This was not a revolutionary or groundbreaking draft by the Colts. It was a draft that filled in holes and needs, while getting younger in the process. It felt like the Colts for the past five years were still carryovers from the Polian era with a new quarterback. This is probably because the team wasn’t getting any younger (I’m still ticked at the Andre Johnson signing).

Overall I’m excited to see this team heading in a new direction and start to build around the franchise quarterback who was essentially wasted for the past five seasons.

As long as Ballard continues to get make this team younger, they can’t stoop any lower than where they were. I’m hopeful this marks the start of a new era of the Colts — six years too late.


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