INDIANAPOLIS – Much of the work has been done, although there’s always work to be done.
Since paring the Indianapolis Colts’ roster to 53 on Tuesday, Chris Ballard has claimed a rookie offensive tackle off waivers (Luke Tenuta), re-signed a veteran offensive tackle (Dennis Kelly), placed a rookie safety on the injured reserve list (Trevor Denbow), released a veteran cornerback (Tony Brown) to make room for the waiver claim, re-signed that same veteran cornerback (Tony Brown) to the practice squad, and filled the majority of the team’s 17-player practice squad.
Oh, and prior to the roster cutdown, Ballard acquired linebacker Grant Stuard in a trade with Tampa Bay.
But as much as Ballard thrives on massaging the roster, it comes at a price.
“It’s always tough letting go of guys that have been with you, but it’s part of what we do,’’ he said Wednesday. “We handle it professionally.
“It’s never easy. This time of year is never easy, but we feel good about where we’re at.’’
Ballard seemed especially pained that the Chicago Bears claimed Hamilton Heights H.S. product Sterling Weatherford off waivers.
“That was hard,’’ he admitted.
Here are some of the more noteworthy topics Ballard discussed with the media Wednesday:
Timeline for Shaq
*Background: All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard practiced for the first time Wednesday after missing all of the team’s offseason work and training camp. He spent camp on PUP after undergoing back surgery in mid-June, but was added to the active roster Tuesday. The prevailing question: Will Leonard be ready for the Sept. 11 opener at Houston?
*Ballard: “He’s got to work. It’s like his first day of training camp, really almost like OTA work. So, he’s got to get the work in. Look, he’s been incredible. In every day at 5:45 (a.m.) meeting with coaches, extra time spent rehabbing, getting his body strong. Now this is the next step. Let’s start practicing again.
“He’s got to get his body ready to play. You can’t miss all that time and just go to being game ready. You got to practice . . . I can’t give you a timeline. Maybe week 1, maybe week 6.’’
*Does the team believe it has resolved the injuries that have plagued Leonard?
*Ballard: “You hope so, but the proof is with going forward. But we feel good about where he’s at and where he’s going.”
*Is Sept. 11 a possibility?
*Ballard: “If we leave it up to him (laughing) . . . we’ll work together with our training staff, doctors and we’ll all make a decision on when we think is the best time based on how practice is going. . . . He’ll be back when he’s back. You’ll know. He’ll be on the active (list). All of a sudden, you’ll see, and he won’t be inactive on game day.’’
Extension for Q
*Background: All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson is in the final year of his rookie contract that pays him $13.754 million and the Colts are steadfast in their commitment to rewarding him with what likely will be the most lucrative deal ever for a guard. The current benchmark is a three-year, $49.5 million ($16.5 million per year) free-agent contract Jacksonville gave to Brandon Scherff. It included $30 million in guarantees. The most guaranteed money went to Kansas City’s Joe Thuney: $46.9 million as part of a five-year, $80 million deal.
Might negotiations continue once the season begins?
*Ballard: “Yeah, we’ll see.’’
*Does the fact Nelson doesn’t play a so-called premium position influence things?
*Ballard: “A player can transcend it. Chiefs didn’t have a problem paying that guard from New England (Thuney) big money. What’s the difference? You pay your best players and he’s special and he’s special to us. Hopefully we get things worked out. We’ll see.’’
The offensive line
*Background: The starting five is set with left tackle Matt Pryor, left guard Quenton Nelson, center Ryan Kelly, right guard Danny Pinter and right tackle Braden Smith. The issue is with the quality of the depth. Ballard reinforced tackle by re-signing Kelly, who missed camp after requiring a procedure on a knee. He’s heading into his 11th season and has appeared in 114 games with 51 starts. The other backup consist of Will Fries, a 2021 7th-round pick who handled a total of 22 snaps in two games as a rookie, and rookies Bernhard Raimann, Wesley French and Luke Tenuta, who was claimed off waivers from Buffalo.
*Ballard: “Yeah, but we feel good about their talent. We think Will Fries took some good steps. Wesley French was a good find by our scouts. He gives you guard/center flexibility that we like. We like the progress that Bernhard is making. We thought he really came on. He gave up the one sack this past week but the rest of the game was really good.
“We feel good about where we’re at and the depth. They’re young, but that’s not a bad thing.’’
*Background: Michael Pittman Jr. is the unquestioned leader in the room, and his supporting cast consists of Parris Campbell, rookie Alec Pierce, Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan and Dezmon Patmon. As we’ve mentioned a zillion times, the non-Pittman wideouts combined for 28 receptions, 382 yards and four TDs last season.
*Ballard: “We kept six an we like them. Pittman Jr. is Pittman Jr. We thought Alec did some really good things and he’s going to have to grow up in a hurry, but we think he will. We thought Parris had a really good camp also, and so did Ashton. We feel really good about them. Patmon came on there at the end and we like Strachan’s talent.’’
*Background: One of the most productive wideouts in team history remains a free agent. Is a return for an 11th season still a possibility?
*Ballard: “Do I think T.Y. can still play? Absolutely I do. I’m never going to shut the door on it, but right now I like our group and we like our group.’’
*Background: The Colts opted to carry three quarterbacks – Matt Ryan, Nick Foles and Sam Ehlinger. The team clearly values Ehlinger’s potential and was convinced some team would have claimed him if it would have waived him with the intention of signing him to the practice squad.
*Ballard: “I mean, he’s a good player. He played his way on. We had a feeling he would because he works so hard at it and he’s so diligent in his process of how he prepares. Then he takes feedback really well. When we talked after the season about things he needed to get better at, you tell him and he goes and works at it. We think Sam has a really bright future.
“He earned a spot.’’
*Background: The team is carrying three running backs – Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines and Deon Jackson. Phillip Lindsay was among the cuts, in part because he isn’t a special teams contributor and Jackson is.
*Ballard: “Phillip’s great and I’m not ruling out ever bringing him back again, but Deon, he did some good things, too. The special teams gave him the nod without question and that’s important. We’re not against bringing him back.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.