INDIANAPOLIS – Chris Ballard paid attention during his four years with Barry Alverez at the University of Wisconsin.
Alverez’s unwavering message: Don’t flinch.
Let’s call it a life lesson, and one that’s proving invaluable as the Indianapolis Colts emerge from a tumultuous training camp and embark on what they hope is a season that sends them into the postseason for a second straight year.
“We just keep movin’ forward, man,” Ballard said Wednesday in a State of the Colts. “You just keep moving forward.
“I don’t live in a glass-half-empty world. I just don’t. I see the positive and whatever happens, we will deal with. That’s kind of what we’ve done since we’ve been here.’’
The alternative – allowing yourself to be consumed by the latest obstacle, no matter the enormity of it – can lead to organizational paralysis.
Don’t flinch when your most veteran wideout – four-time Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton – undergoes recent surgery to address a disc issue in his neck that had bothered him much of training camp. Hilton will be placed on the NFL’s short-term injured reserve list and miss a minimum of three games.
“Surgery went well,’’ Ballard said. “It wasn’t real intrusive, and he’s good. It was instant relief for him.’’
Don’t flinch when three of your unquestioned front-line players – quarterback Carson Wentz, Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly and wideout Zach Pascal – go on the COVID-19 list Monday as close-contact cases. Each could return to the active roster later this week.
Don’t flinch when All-World guard Quenton Nelson (close contact) and projected starting left tackle Eric Fisher (positive test) are added to the COVID-19 list last week. Nelson has returned, Fisher hasn’t.
Don’t flinch when Wentz and Nelson have foot surgery 24 hours apart in early August and Kelly misses extensive time with a hyperextended left elbow.
Don’t flinch when coach Frank Reich and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus miss time after “breakthrough’’ positive tests.
“Anything negative happens, we keep rollin’,’’ Ballard said. “I still go back to Barry in college. It echoes in my head all the time: Don’t flinch. No matter what happens, don’t flinch.’’
While Ballard doesn’t – can’t – dwell on the inherent negatives that accompany his job, it’s clear they occasionally swirl in his head.
“I thought about this today,’’ he said. “Look, they hire us to win. Frank and I, they hire us to win. And it’s easy when it’s smooth and smooth sailing. But when we make our money is when it’s hard. That’s when you make your money.
“That’s when you’re really valuable, when it gets hard.’’
And Ballard and the Colts are used to hard.
Ballard’s rookie season as GM was sabotaged when a lingering shoulder injury forced Anrdrew Luck to miss the entire season. Year 2 began with Josh McDaniel reneging on an agreement to succeed Chuck Pagano as head coach, bounced to Ballard reloading with Reich and the Colts kicking off the Reich era with a 1-5 start. Year 3? That was tossed upside down with Luck’s retirement two weeks before the season opener.
“I mean, coaching deal, 1-5, quarterback retires,’’ Ballard said after a short pause. “We just keep movin’ forward, man.
“There’s gonna be problems in every season. There’s going to be injury. There’s going to be breakthrough cases. There’s going to be COVID. It’s gonna happen. It’s going to happen to every team. You move forward.’’
As the Colts move closer to the Sept. 12 opener against the Seattle Seahawks at Lucas Oil Stadium, they do so with a roster that figures to be fluid over the next week or so. Ballard rearranged the secondary Wednesday by claiming cornerbacks BoPete Keyes and Chris Wilcox and waiving Marvell Tell III and Andre Chachere.
That came after a trade with Philadelphia to acquire offensive tackle Matt Pryor.
“We’ve got a ways to go, (and) we’re going to be young in some spots, but I like where we’re at,’’ Ballard said. “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 deal with it.’’
The bottom line? Don’t flinch.
That approach limits the sleepless nights.
“I always think we’re going to find an answer,’’ Ballard said. “I don’t sit in bed at night thinking we’re not going to find an answer no matter what the problem is.
“That’s our jobs. We solve them. You deal with it. Every team has a hole and something they’ve gotta play around. Who does it better?”
Ballard: everybody should be vaccinated
The Colts’ COVID-19 issues are clear. Nine players and four staff members have dealt with either positive tests or close-contact issues.
Ballard spent much of Wednesday’s press conference addressing a topic that might rear its head during the season, force a player or players to miss a game and possibly impact the team’s pursuit of a playoff berth.
“Do I think everybody should be vaccinated? Absolutely I do,’’ he said. “I am for the vaccine. Frank is for the vaccine. We have a lot of guys on our team that are for the vaccine. For the guys who have chosen to not get vaccinated – that’s their decision – they’re still part of this team, and they have to take care of the team, they have to protect the team.
“Because some of them are some of our really good players, they’ve got to do everything they can to protect the team. And them playing helps the team win.’’
Ballard, Reich and owner Jim Irsay have repeatedly expressed their pro-vaccination beliefs. But with the NFL unable to have a mandate that all players be vaccinated – that would require agreement with the players’ union – there’s a limit to a team’s options.
The Colts had a 75% vaccination rate last week, and were one of the NFL’s least-vaccinated teams. Ballard wouldn’t provide an update other than to offer “it’s getting better.’’
Unvaccinated players, he stressed, must follow the league’s protocols “to a T.’’
“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. It’s just not how we roll, man.
“I believe in our guys. I believe in what they stand for, and I’m going to 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.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.