INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Without using the word, Chris Ballard made one thing crystal clear as he surveyed the Indianapolis Colts’ upcoming season.
Patience will be required from an already anxious fan base.
The 53-man roster remains a work in progress with Ballard in his second season as general manager. Twenty-three players have been in the NFL for one year or less, including 11 rookies.
Only 16 players predate Ballard’s arrival in January 2017. Just five were on the active roster when Andrew Luck led the Colts to the 2014 AFC Championship game.
“When you have a young football team,’’ Ballard said during a Sunday afternoon conference call, “it’s not going to just happen overnight. Look, it might not always be perfect. Heck, it doesn’t always get perfect for great football teams.
“They have hiccups, too.’’
Ballard’s promise to the team’s fan base?
“That we work our butts off and continue to stay the course of where we’re going and compete to get better,’’ he said. “Make the progress that shows we’re going to be a good football team.’’
The answered question: how soon?
The Colts have tested the loyalty of their fan base by finishing with losing records in each of the last three seasons, capped by last year’s 4-12. They’ve endured three consecutive non-playoff seasons for the first time since 1988-94.
But here’s a more chilling stat: the last time the Colts finished with four straight non-winning records was during a nine-year stretch that spanned two cities (1978-86).
Ballard, Frank Reich and their respective staffs hunkered down inside the team’s West 56th Street complex over the weekend to finalize – for now – the roster. They decided to release popular and productive John Simon, who was miss-cast as a right end in the new 4-3 defense; traded tight end Darrell Daniels to Seattle for wideout Marcus Johnson; and claimed defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad (New Orleans) and safety Corey Moore (Houston) off waivers.
Some highlights from Ballard’s conference call:
- Tyquan Lewis to IR: The second-round draft pick’s rookie season has been temporarily interrupted. At least that’s the hope. A lingering toe injury hasn’t progressed as expected, forcing the team to place Lewis on the injured reserve list. If he makes the necessary strides, he can begin practicing after six games and be “designated to return’’ after missing eight games.
“It stinks because the kid’s really talented,’’ Ballard said.
The coaching staff envisioned using Lewis as an interior rusher in passing situations. Now, that plan is on hold.
In another medical matter, Ballard revealed tight end Ross Travis was placed on IR after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a knee in Thursday’s preseason game at Cincinnati.
- Simon decision ‘tough:’ Ballard riled the fan base when he decided to release Simon Saturday. It was, he insisted, “a hard decision.’’
“Look, I’m close with John Simon,’’ Ballard said. “He’s one of my favorite guys and favorite players. He knows it. It was tough.
“You can point the finger directly at me. I was the one that held on and wanted to hold on. It just didn’t work.’’
That was in reference to Simon moving from outside linebacker in last year’s 3-4 scheme to end in coordinator Matt Eberflus’ 4-3. Jabaal Sheard is the starting left end with Margus Hunt his backup.
At right end, Simon was competing with rookie Kemoko Turay and 2017 third-round pick Tarell Basham.
“The right-end spot is a speed, get-off-the-ball position to make this defense work,’’ Ballard explained.
Ballard and his staff determined Simon, despite his productivity, was the odd-man out. Turay and Basham fit the “prototype’’ of what the Colts want at right end.
When pressed on whether the release of Simon might send a bad message to the locker room – a productive veteran was jettisoned – Ballard reiterated his affinity for Simon, but quickly added, “we just didn’t release (Dwight) Freeney or (Robert) Mathis and 14 sacks.’’
- Concern over the pass rush: Ballard admitted he’s a little concerned about the Colts’ ability to crank up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
“You’re always going to be concerned about rushing the passer,’’ he said. “And I’m talking about real rush, and that’s something that’s going to be something we’re just going to have to continue to dig and try to find here as we go along,’’
The Colts managed 25 sacks last season, tied for the second-fewest in the NFL and tied for the third-fewest in team history. Sheard led them with 5.5.
Of the seven others who had at least 2, four are no longer with the team: Simon (3), Johnathan Hankins (2), Barkevious Mingo (2), Henry Anderson (2).
Basham finished with 2 sacks in a lackluster rookie season, and tackle Hassan Ridgeway posted 3.
“Defensively, look, we are making a transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3, and nobody said it was going to be easy,’’ Ballard said. “And it’s never easy when you make that transition from a personnel standpoint to get the right fit of player that you want.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.