Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

April 29, 2018 at 10:44 pm.

2018 Colts draft: Improving the trenches

Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard went into the 2017 National Football League draft with a definite plan.

Ballard had his sights set on improving the Colts’ offensive and defensive lines. After a franchise record-setting 11 draft picks, consider the job accomplished. Or at the very least, Indianapolis is off to a strong start in the right direction.

“We are excited. No question (the) emphasis (was) on our fronts, front seven on defense and on the O-line. We wanted to make sure that we upped the competition level on the O-line and add some depth. And westbound we did that without question,” the second-year GM emphasized.

“(Second-round pick Braden Smith) is going to be a heck of a player for us long term. And pairing him with (first-round draft pick Quenton) Nelson gives us two young guards going forward that can really help set the depth of the pocket and really help in our run game.”

Ballard really likes the additions on the defensive line as well.

“Look, you win up front. You win when you rush. You win with speed and that’s how we’re going to play. And we’re going to play with waves. We’re going to play with seven, eight defensive linemen and they’re going to play in waves,” he explained.

“The defensive line is always going to get the priority with us.”

Ballard came away from the 2017 season disappointed with the Colts’ physicality at the point of attack. That goes for both the offensive and defensive lines.

“Let me say this. I had some frustrating moments last year where I just thought physically we did not match up against teams. Especially in our division,” he said.

“These are young guys. They are young players and they are going to have to grow and work and become NFL players. They all have talent. They all have been producers at their schools and played a lot of football and they will get up to speed.”

After concentrating on the offensive and defensive lines over the first two days of the draft, Indianapolis added a pair of running backs, a pair of wide receivers and a pair of inside linebackers.

But it was an outside linebacker taken on Friday night, South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard, that Ballard talked about.

“The athlete, the speed. That’s what we want at linebacker. We want guys that can play in space, close on the football and you have to do that with speed. The way we play, speed is a premium. Our linebackers have to be able to run. I mean, we set a limit on it,” he voiced.

“And (Leonard) has got speed. He is passionate about football. He was one of the guys that we think have real grit.”

Overall, Ballard is happy with what was accomplished over the three days of the draft.

“Good weekend for us,” the general manager said. “We thought we added some explosive athletes, both offensive and defensively, and we think they can help us moving forward.”

With the conclusion of the draft, the restructuring of the Indianapolis roster will continue.

“Player acquisition happens year ’round. I just thought that at the end of the day, we needed to get our foundation right. It’s hard to sustain winning when your foundation, when your O-line and D-line are not good,” Ballard said.




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