INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard met with the media Wednesday evening at the Colts’ complex to discuss an up and down preseason in Indianapolis.
In just 11 days, Ballard’s team meets Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, who come off a 12-win season in which the seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback tossed a career-high 40 touchdowns.
Here were the major takeaways:
Ballard refuses to criticize unvaccinated Colts
It is clear Ballard and head coach Frank Reich will let their locker room continue to make their own decisions regarding whether or not to get vaccinated. Quarterback Carson Wentz, center Ryan Kelly, and wide receiver Zach Pascal are unvaccinated and remain on the COVID-19 reserve list following a close contact situation this past week with a Colts staffer who tested positive.
“Look, I could beat my head against the wall,” Ballard said. “I could go in there and raise all kinds of hell and go off, and it’s just not how we roll, man. I believe in our guys. I believe in what they stand for, and I’ll stand by them. We’ll continue to work on the vaccinations. It’s not like we’re done. It’s not like we’re done educating. And they know the importance of team. They understand the importance of team, and I can already see the comments after making that statement. But they understand that they have to take care of the protocols at hand and they have to live by them and we’ll do that at the best of the ability we can do it.”
Wentz (foot) making progress toward Week 1 start
Ballard said he expects Wentz off the COVID reserve list and back on the practice field “soon.” Certainly, a whole week of practice next week ahead of the Sept. 12 season opener at Lucas Oil Stadium against the Seahawks is the expectation. He also shared that Wentz’s foot continues to make “great progress” following surgery last month. How does Ballard grade the 28-year-old’s rollercoaster opening summer in Indy?
“I mean look, he’s worked his butt off, been a good teammate,” Ballard said. “When the foot thing happened, I could see the frustration, but I also saw another look like, ‘I’m playing. Let’s get it out and let’s go to work.’ And that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing. My career didn’t start out really good here either, if you remember. Now I’ll get philosophical on you. We judge things in the moment — good or bad — when we really don’t freaking know. Like, we really don’t know. We want to know and we want to make a judgment on it, but we really don’t know. You’ve got to let it play out. Let’s just let it play out. Let it play out, then you can kick me in the teeth (laughs).”
Hilton (neck) is officially placed on IR (to return)
Four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton will miss at least the home contests against Seattle and Los Angeles (Rams), as well as the trip to Tennessee. The Colts will place Hilton on injured reserve (to return) following neck surgery this week to relieve discomfort involving a disc. Ballard shared that the surgery was not considered “major” and provided Hilton with “instant relief” following the procedure. There is no timetable yet for his return.
Expect more roster moves in the coming days
The Colts’ initial 53-man roster is set along with Wednesday’s finalizing of the first 16-man practice squad of the season. Although the roster cutdowns didn’t create significant buzz, Wednesday’s decision to waive cornerbacks Andre Chachere & Marvell Tell appeared to catch a few players on the Colts’ defense off guard. Chachere, a fourth-year corner with no regular season experience, flashed throughout training camp. Tell, a former 5th round pick who opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns, failed to show consistent performances at Grand Park. Ballard opened up on the tough roster cuts across the board:
“I say this every year, you have to go prove it, you have to go earn it. It doesn’t matter really now. I mean, it’s like after the draft when everybody’s all jacked up and excited. Oh man, we just hit a home run, but then reality hits you in the face when they have to actually strap it up and play. We have a ways to go, we have work to do. We’re going to be young in some spots, but I like where we’re at, I like where we’re going. Do I wish we were healthy during training camp and had a full boat to be able to get everybody into preseason games and practices? But that’s just not the hand we were dealt. So, we’ll deal with it. I do think we’ll get better as we go along during this season, and I think that’s one of the things that I really appreciate about our coaching staff. They continue to coach and work and the fundamentals and the technique and the things you need to work on to get better — we work them all season and I think that’s critical. But I like where we’re at. I like where we’re at.”
Ballard beams about star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner
Entering his second season in Indianapolis, it is clear Buckner’s voice may carry more weight than any other in the Colts’ locker room. Buckner’s 9.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss were the second-best marks of his career and earned the 27-year-old his first All-Pro honor. Ballard’s endorsement of the anchor of the Colts defensive line is not a surprise, but was certainly notable:
“I can’t say enough good things about Buckner. What luck? (with the trade) Really. What luck? Human being, leader, worker, player — I mean, everything. All of it. All of it. We’re here in Indy, but this guy is as good as any defensive player in the National Football League. I mean, he’s good and he stands for all the right things. It’s been fun to watch him really take that room over. That’s a young room. That’s a young room. Buck is not old and Grover (Stewart) is not. These are young guys, but that room is young. Buck has been tremendous.”
Seventh-round pick Mike Strachan caught Ballard’s eye at camp
It was impossible to walk away from Grand Park without including rookie wide receiver Mike Strachan in the conversation of the biggest winner of the summer. Strachan regularly came down with highlight-reel grabs, showing great body control and ball skills to go with an imposing 6-foot, 5-inch, 226-pound frame.
“He’s coming along,” Ballard said. “He has a ways to go but he’s a big, talented guy. It’s always interesting in training camp with the young players, that they’ll start out really fast and then reality hits them of the daily work that has to be put in. They’re not used to the workload, they’re not used to the volume that they’re getting. So you’ll see a little bit of a dip and then all of a sudden, they’ll spike up again, which I thought we started to see with him. Look, he’s a big, talented athlete that has ball skills that is still learning how to play. So we’ll see. We’ll start him out in small doses and then see how he handles it. The more he produces, the more he’ll get the ball.”
The book is still out on Jacob Eason
Second-year pro Jacob Eason essentially exceeded all expectations at Grand Park after being thrust into the starting quarterback role on day three of training camp. Eason’s best stint came when the Panthers arrived in Indianapolis, where he turned in back-to-back turnover-free performances at joint practices, followed by an impressive preseason debut (15-21, 183 yards). Struggles followed against Minnesota and Detroit, but overall, Eason quieted most of the critics calling for the team to add a veteran quarterback to serve as Wentz’s backup this season.
“I thought he made really good strides,” Ballard said. “I think y’all saw that too. Last year, not being able to get him any preseason work and really, he was the third-string quarterback so minimal reps all year, but what he got was a Ph.D. watching Philip Rivers play the game. Now you have to go do it. It’s different. You can sit in the meeting room and you can sit in practice but playing in a game is a whole different level. It was pretty cool to watch from game one to game two to game three, the game start to slow down for him. I think that’s going to be his biggest challenge going forward is to continue to play the game, the game has to get a little slower and he’s got to play faster. I think he’ll continue – the more reps he gets, the better he’ll get at it.”
Left Tackle Eric Fisher inches closer to a return
Free-agent pickup Julién Davenport is penciled in as the Colts Week 1 starter at left tackle, as fellow offseason addition Eric Fisher continues to rehab following a torn Achillies suffered in last season’s AFC championship game with Kansas City. Although Fisher hasn’t made his official return to practice, indications are he is not far from being ready. Ballard didn’t want to set a specific timeline on Wednesday but did add the team is happy with Fisher’s progress this preseason.