Chris Ballard’s preliminary press conference

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INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard held his annual draft press conference on Friday – this time in video format. What did he have to say about the upcoming project, free agency movements, the quarterback position and many other topics?

This year’s “virtual draft” will certainly be different, but the Colts are more than ready to go and get the job done: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought all kinds of temporary changes around the world, which is certainly no different when it comes to the NFL draft, which will be held Thursday through Saturday in a “virtual only” format, in which the entire team and League staff and prospects must participate by videoconference from their own home.

In any other year, the Colts’ location and training personnel would be found in the team’s draft room, whether physically assembled or using technology to meet, Ballard is convinced that there will not be much difference in one way or another.

The team’s preparation for the project has been (for the most part) the same, and the team will continue to have an open dialogue throughout the process next week to select the best possible prospects.

“Our team, our group of scouts, they have been incredible in this process,” said Ballard. “None of them flinched once – they didn’t blink. Any change, anything that happened, they found answers. And I’m lucky – I’m lucky – to have the group that I have with me and around me.

“They resolved problems along the way and found ways for us to communicate, to keep our process going in the same way,” said Ballard. “We actually grew up. There are many things that I think we have discovered here in the past three weeks that we love, that we will continue to do in the future. “

Regarding his individual plan for the project, Ballard said he would be based in his basement, where the team applied all kinds of failures to ensure smooth operation, including installing a generator. for emergency power and an Internet backup connection – just in case.

What if all else fails?

“At the end of the day, I’ll take my phone and call the mediator,” said Ballard with a laugh.

Like head coach Frank Reich, Ballard used the phrase “unique opportunity” when signing free agent quarterback Philip Rivers: The Colts officially announced the signing of Rivers, 38, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection on March 21, giving the offense a veteran quarterback playmaker who had previously worked with Reich and the offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni when they were on the Coaching Staff of the San Diego / Los Angeles Chargers.

Although Rivers’ signature and the price he wears for his one-year contract are not typical of the moves Ballard made in his fourth year with the Colts, he acknowledged that “the quarterback position rear is a little different. ” adding, “I think it was a little bit unique. “

What made him unique, Ballard said, was not just the fact that Rivers, whom he considered a “potential Hall of Fame quarterback,” hit the free market and had this familiarity with Reich and Sirianni, but that the team’s situation in 2020 allowed it to bear the high salaries of Rivers and quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

“All of the other guys we have got are really in our mold,” said Ballard. “For the most part, we have remained fairly disciplined with what we want to do. “

Sticking to the quarterback position, Ballard is well aware that the team currently has no one signed there after 2020 – but he does not sweat: Rivers, Brissett and Chad Kelly are the quarterbacks who are currently on the Colts offseason list, and all three have their Colts contracts expiring after the 2020 season.

The Colts have all kinds of options for addressing the future of the position: if Rivers is the answer in 2020, maybe he could be brought back for another year; perhaps Brissett, with another year to his credit, could be brought back as a permanent starter in 2021; Kelly could continue to grow in the Reich system and be a viable option in a year; or the Colts could use the draft or free agency to find the future for the quarterback.

In any event, Ballard warned, as he often did, that “you can’t force the quarterback position.”

“Especially in the draft,” he said. “I think history has shown it. He must be the right guy, the right one for us, and for our staff and for our organization. So I don’t know when it’s going to happen: maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe two I don’t know. And I’m not going to force it – much to everyone’s dismay, and it might drive everyone crazy, but I’m not going to force this problem. When we decide to take one, we think he’s going to be the future guy in this franchise, you must be right. “

“Swapping the 13th overall choice against the San Francisco 49ers for defensive forward DeForest Buckner was an” easy decision: ” While it can be assumed that Ballard, who is known for collecting as many choices as he can each year, would have thought twice before giving such precious commodity in this 13th choice, he said on Friday that the decision was not that difficult to take.

In reality?

“I thought it was very easy,” said Ballard.

Buckner, who just turned 26, was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2018, and was named second All-Pro team in 2019. The Colts in this offseason surrounded this location with three techniques defensively forward when looking at the areas they wanted to improve on, and they got one of the best young players in the league at that position at Buckner, who has 262 career tackles (38 for a loss) with 28.5 sacks, 11 defensive assists, seven fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles in his first four seasons in the league.

“He has everything we stand for – high character, he’s a producer,” said Ballard. “It is durable, it has character (and) it plays a premium position in this defense. It was an easy decision, an easy decision.

“I know that the 13th choice is a high price, but we didn’t make a lot of big moves like this and a chance to acquire a player of this caliber with his character, I thought it was obvious Said Ballard. . “In fact, I held my breath, praying that it would be done. I couldn’t be happier to bring this young man into this organization and I think you will see the same things I see here in the future. »»

The Colts love the depth at the wide receiver in this year’s draft, but they also love what they get back: Could it be a historical draft class with a large receiver? That’s what many outside experts predict, and even if the Colts now have no first-round pick, the team still has the option of finding an immediate playmaker in the extended position with one of their seven choices among the towers. 2-6.

Starting Monday, the most important receivers to be selected by the Colts in the second round included Brandon Aiyuk of Arizona State, Tee Higgins of Clemson, Chase Claypool of Notre Dame, Denzel Mims of Baylor and Michael Pittman Jr. of USC, among others.

“There is a lot of depth in the repechage,” said Ballard. “We feel great at all levels, from guys we think we can start to guys who we think can play important roles. “

But let’s not forget the fact that the Colts were wounded at the wide receiver position in 2019, and most of these key players at the position are back and healthy for the start of 2020, including the wide receiver # 1 TY Hilton, second-round pick of 2019 Parris Campbell and third-year receiver Daurice Fountain, who had a promising training camp before suffering a late-season ankle injury before he even can start.

“Bringing T.Y. Hilton back into good health, bringing Parris Campbell back into good health, having Zach Pascal – it’s not like it was a complete vacuum at the position,” said Ballard. “We think we have talented guys there. “

The team is still making the decision to choose Malik Hooker’s fifth year security option: Hooker, who was picked with the 15th pick overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, begins his fourth season with the Colts in 2020.

The team faces a May 4 deadline to decide whether or not to choose Hooker’s fifth year option which is available to all first round picks; if they refuse to choose the option, Hooker becomes a free agent at the end of this season.

“Yes, we have some time,” said Ballard. “When I finish the draft we will sit down and talk about the direction we are going to take. “

Hooker has played in 34 games with 33 starts for the Colts in his first three seasons, collecting a total of 117 tackles (one for a loss) with seven interceptions, 11 defensive assists and two fumble recoveries. He played 13 games last season and had 51 tackles (one for a loss) with two interceptions and three defensive assists.

Last year, the Colts chose the fifth year option over center Ryan Kelly, their first round pick in 2016.

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