WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — On Wednesday midway through the Colts and Lions opening joint practice at Grand Park Sports Campus, Jim Irsay, the Colts owner and chief executive officer, spoke publicly for the first time at training camp.
Here are the highlights from the question-and-answer session.
Irsay thrilled with the arrival of QB Matt Ryan
On Wednesday Irsay again went back to the Jan. 9 late-night meeting with Colts General Manager Chris Ballard immediately following the Week 18 loss in Jacksonville. At that time, Irsay had multiple concerns about the team’s collapse over the final two weeks of the season, centering on what he reiterated Wednesday as “some inconsistency at quarterback and that led to massive problems.”
The quarterback change from Carson Wentz to Matt Ryan along with the additions of proven defensive playmakers Stephon Gilmore and Yannick Ngakoue now have Irsay noticeably rejuvenated ahead of the 2022 season.
“I think they (concerns) were addressed probably even in a more exciting way than I hoped,” Irsay said. “We’re really excited about that and we really feel this is an outstanding football team with a lot of veteran leadership. It’s proven that we can get more turnovers than anyone in the league, it’s the best special teams group in the league, that it has the best running back along with obviously the great player in Tennessee. So, there is so many positive things and I think Matt Ryan has been everything we hoped and dream for.”
Sky-high preseason expectations return
The tone from previous training camps didn’t change from the Colts owner on Wednesday. Irsay wants to be playing in February at Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona, and he believes the addition of Ryan gives this roster a legitimate chance to emerge from the gauntlet on paper that is the AFC. His bar for success this season? Nothing shy of playing for it all.
“It’s to go and get that next Lombardi Trophy,” Irsay said. “Since 2000, we’ve won more – we’re the fourth winningest team in the National Football League with just three in front of us. That’s something to be said over such a long period of time. However, we know in this era – the interesting thing is we have this strong feeling when Matt Ryan comes in. From the passion in my heart, from what Chris Ballard has noted and Coach (Frank) Reich, that look, this is the time to set up another generation of greatness…Now, we just have to go do it and Matt Ryan has that same feeling in his heart. That difficult loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, he’s here to get his Lombardi. So, this is the time.”
Long-term extension imminent for 4-time All-Pro Quenton Nelson
Irsay is confident four-time Pro Bowl Left Guard Quenton Nelson’s contract extension will get done sooner rather than later, sighting the organization’s track record of locking up its best players with long-term deals before the expiration of their rookie contract. It appears at the moment both sides are not on the goal line yet, but taking into account the timing of Pro Bowl Center Ryan Kelly’s extension just ahead of Week 1 of the 2020 season, this feels like a very similar situation.
“Well, right now we aren’t doing anything – I mean it’s a process that the talks go on,” Irsay said. “It’s always been the plan to get that done, and I see that getting done. I really do. It’s just a question of timing and moving towards an agreement, like always that favors both sides and is good for both sides…. I see it getting done.”
Enough playmakers on offense outside of JT & MPJ?
After stating last summer that Jonathan Taylor should be dreaming about a Gold Jacket one day at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, Irsay once again beamed about the NFL’s reigning rushing champion’s quest for more greatness in 2022. Is a 2,000-rushing-yard season out of the question for the third-year superstar? It is all possible according to Irsay, who reiterated that despite the national hype, the only thing Taylor truly cares about is winning.
The rest of the playmakers on offense behind Michael Pittman Jr. as a whole are unproven, and Irsay also addressed that concern Wednesday:
“We have to get that component of being accurate and consistent in the passing game and develop a few more playmakers and I think we have that with Alec (Pierce) and some of the guys that we added to a roster that already had playmakers,” Irsay said. “Nyheim (Hines) wasn’t involved as much as we want him to be. I talked about him a couple of years – why don’t we play him at slot as a receiver? It was kind of discussed, well, I don’t think we want to do that but I think we’re going to try and do that more this year. You know, they never listen to the owner (laughing). That’s what I pay them to do, to decide. I give them nudges sometimes and then let them see whatever direction they go in because I believe in them and I believe you give your people that room to create and be great in the things they do.”
Irsay is never short on optimism, but after watching three-plus weeks of training camp in Westfield, there is a clear difference in demeanor with this team compared to one season ago. We’ll see if that translates next month as the Colts attempt to avoid digging another early-season hole to climb out of in the highly competitive AFC.