New Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard has a great deal of work ahead of him to improve the team's roster, but he has already begun the process of evaluating what the Colts have, and what they will need. Colts.com reported that Ballard had a lot to say about his new team during his recent appearance on a local Indianapolis radio program.
Ballard emphasized the need to rebuild Indianapolis' aging defense, which has been mostly ineffective in recent seasons. Ballard also pointed out that he wants his coaches and scouting staff to be completely open with him and with each other, and so far, that philosophy has paid off. The Colts are about to begin a long series of meetings leading up to the NFL Draft in April, and the new general manager expects everyone to be open and honest during the process, with doing what is best for the team the top (and perhaps only) priority.
Perhaps the most telling of Chris Ballard's comments came when he was asked about his team-building plan. Ballard believes in having strong offensive and defensive lines, and building out from there.
"It's always about your fronts. When you have a good quarterback and you can have a good offensive and defensive line, you have a chance to win. If that defensive line can get after the quarterback, especially with four people…you all lived it for a long time here in Indy.
"When you had (Dwight) Freeney and (Robert) Mathis coming off the edge and Tony (Dungy) was the head coach. That makes all the difference in the world. It covers up for a lot of your mistakes on the back end. I promise you that will always be my mindset. That is something I will always keep my eye on and you always have to be trying to acquire talent at those positions."
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The Indianapolis Colts' offensive line has been a key area of concern for the past several seasons. The left side of the line is solid, manned by left tackle Anthony Castonzo, left guard Jack Mewhort and center Ryan Kelly. According to the Indianapolis Star, Mewhort and Kelly established themselves as fixtures last season, while Castonzo was less consistent. Fortunately, Castonzo played well in the latter part of the 2016 season, showing glimpses of his Pro Bowl-caliber form of 2014.
The right side of the offensive line is much more unsettled. Several players shuffled in and out of the lineup in 2016, including Joe Haeg, Denzelle Good, Joe Reitz and Le'Raven Clark. All of those players had their moments and gave the Colts reason to be optimistic about their potential, but there were far too many lapses from this group that prevented the offense from running smoothly. The team's run blocking showed improvement this past season, although the pass protection still needs work.
Another area of frustration for the Colts and their fans has been the lack of a pass rush. The team felt that the return of outside linebacker Robert Mathis would bolster the unit in 2016, but Mathis had lost a step and was not productive in his final NFL season. Outside linebacker Erik Walden emerged as Indianapolis' best pass rusher last season, totaling 11 sacks (per SB Nation). The Colts tried several other players at the "rush" linebacker spot, but none of them distinguished themselves. Improving the team's anemic pass rush will be one of Chris Ballard's top priorities going into the offseason.
One of Ballard's first decisions as the Colts' new general manager was to release inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, but that is just the beginning of the team's roster moves, as detailed by Fansided. Defensive tackle Art Jones has been a bust after signing a five-year, $33 million free agent contract to join the Colts in 2014. Jones has not been able to stay healthy, and could be cut before the 2017 campaign begins.
A dark-horse candidate for the unemployment line could be tight end Dwayne Allen. Allen signed a lucrative deal with Indianapolis after the team chose to re-sign him and let Coby Fleener leave via free agency. However, Allen had a very disappointing 2016 season, and with the emergence of Jack Doyle at that position, it is possible that Ballard will decide to re-sign Doyle and waive Allen, although the likelihood is that Dwayne Allen will get at least one more season to prove that he can remain healthy and give the team the receiving and blocking threat he has shown (in short spurts) that he can be.
[Featured Image by Michael Conroy/AP Images]