Indianapolis Colts

It’s time to be concerned about Andrew Luck’s calf injury

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WESTFIELD, Ind. — On the surface, the calf strain keeping Andrew Luck from practicing in training camp this week shouldn’t be too concerning. Opening day is five weeks away. A calf strain has to heal in two or three weeks, right? Of course it should. Problem is, it’s been lingering since April, and after three MRIs found nothing more severe than a strain, and aftrer Luck has previously taken some time off to help it stop barking, it’s still there.

So that’s where the Colts were Sunday afternoon, as Jacoby Brissett took all the first-team snaps at quarterback and Luck was nowhere to be seen, presumably getting treatment on the calf.

I asked Luck if he had any doubt he’d be ready to play opening day. “No,” he said. “I certainly believe I will [be ready]. That’s certainly the goal.” But when I asked him how stubborn the injury has been, he said: “At times I do worry about it. It can be frustrating. The arc of an injury, whether it’s a big surgical one or something you’re rehabbing through. But no, because I’ve improved. Maybe I’m not improving as fast as I want and missing things is no fun. It eats at you. But I do know at the end of the day if I’m getting the most out of myself, if I’m being the best I can that day, then that’s what I need to do.”

Taken together, it sounds like Luck, and the Colts, are pretty sure he’ll play the opener at the Chargers on Sept. 7. It also sounds like this thing has been driving him nuts. He’s vague about when exactly it happened; I heard it stems from late last season. He says he thinks he aggravated a calf strain this offseason. Whatever, the MRIs don’t show significant damage. That’s why the organization isn’t chewing its nails. Yet.

“When will he practice?” I asked coach Frank Reich.

“We don’t know,” Reich said.

The uncertainty is sort of maddening, unless you consider Reich’s perspective on this. When I sat with him around noon Sunday, he sounded much like the man who interviewed for the Colts coaching job 18 months ago. He never asked GM Chris Ballard about Luck’s recurring and balky shoulder injury. The theory was, Reich had faith he’d win regardless who the quarterback was, and he wanted the job regardless whether Luck would play. Same stuff Sunday.

“As a former player and as a coach, it’s just always my instinct to trust the player,” Reich said. “I really don’t lay awake at night thinking about it. When our players have injuries, I’m not the guy who’s asking every five minutes how they’re doing. That’s just the way I am. Part of that is because I think my 14 years of experience as a player … I know he wants to be there as bad as anybody. Me asking him every five minutes how he’s doing doesn’t help anything.”

I sense the only reason why the Colts aren’t more nervous this morning is because backup Jacoby Brissett is having a very good camp, and the franchise considers him a serviceable starter if he has to play. You’ll recall he played okay in Luck’s place in 2017. On Sunday, Brissett threw a couple of beautiful balls, including an arcing 25-yard fade into the corner of the end zone to T.Y. Hilton in 11-on-11 drills. But there’s a difference between a hot Sunday against friendly faces, and road trips to the Chargers, Titans and Chiefs in the first five weeks of the season. For the Colts to duplicate or improve on their surprising success last year (11-7, including a wild-card win in Houston), Luck and a healthy left leg gives them the best shot.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Colts GM gives peek behind the curtain of team’s draft process

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Peter King is on vacation until July 15, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today, it’s Chris Ballard, general manager of the Indianapolis Colts.

INDIANAPOLIS — I get asked all the time what it’s like to be the general manager of the Colts throughout the draft process, and what it’s like inside the room on draft night. The journey is a grind. It can be exhausting at times. But the hard work and dedication only confirms our confidence in the players we select during the draft.

No two teams in the NFL draft alike. No two teams scout the same way, or use exact traits and characteristics when they look for players. Working for three organizations—Chicago, Kansas City and Indianapolis—and working as an area scout, a pro scouting director, a player personnel director and a director of football operations before taking the GM job here, I’ve seen how all 32 teams evaluate and draft. In two decades in the scouting business, I’ve seen how mentors like former Bears GM Jerry Angelo did it, how my Chiefs bosses Andy Reid and John Dorsey do it, and how other friends and competitors at other teams do it.

You might be surprised in our process that there’s a former Green Beret involved; his unique interviewing techniques help us strip away the agent-speak and happy talk that surround so many players in the draft process. You might be surprised that we’ve borrowed something from the brain trust at Pixar called “The Room of Candor,” so honesty is the only policy in the draft discussions.

I never want to look back at any decision we’ve made and think we didn’t have the real, unvarnished facts on the table when we’ve made these important choices.

Scouting in the NFL

The real currency of the draft—and any player acquisition—is scouting, medical, character and analytical information. We meet with potential prospects, sometimes on multiple occasions, and conduct extensive research. We do this to make sure we are making smart picks that will be good fits for the Colts. Most importantly, we have to be more accurate than 31 other teams drafting that day.

When Frank Reich and I sat down for his coaching interview in February 2018, we spent a lot of time talking about what type of players we wanted in the locker room. We were in lock step in our philosophies on the makeup of the team. We define football character as a player’s work ethic, passion for the game, football intelligence, competitive nature, and teamness. If any of these areas are weak, the chances of the player busting and not fitting in our locker room becomes greater. An NFL season is long and hard. The character of each individual player and the entire team shows up, either good or bad, during the hard times. It is difficult to get through a rough stretch if your players don’t have mental toughness.

We go the extra mile to delve into players and see how they’ll fit. You are telling the locker room every time you draft a player, “this is what we stand for.” If you bring in someone with a poor work ethic, or someone who is selfish, or someone who is unwilling to put in the work, you’re telling the locker room that that’s OK. Jerry Angelo used to say all the time that the talent of a player will tell you his ceiling, but his football character determines his floor. It’s critical to get that right, so we know the floor.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Peter King ranks every single NFL team heading into the summer

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Mid-May. Time to take stock of the offseason. There’s not much left for teams to do before training camp. Vets with something left (Ndamukong Suh, Muhammad Wilkerson, Jay Ajayi, maybe Chris Long) could land somewhere, but those guys aren’t going to shift the balance of power in pro football’s 100th season.

So here are my rankings of the teams with most of the chairs being taken, and the music about to stop. Instead of justifying my pick in many of the fat-graf explanations, I’ll take some space on a key point that could determine success or failure with the team.

I fully expect to be wildly incorrect, so react accordingly.

The 2018 playoff teams are marked with asterisks … The teams that finished under .500 in 2018 are marked with plus-signs.

1. *KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (2018: 13-5)

Seems a little crazy with the firing of the 2017 NFL rushing champ (Kareem Hunt) six months ago and the iffy status of the NFL’s most dangerous weapon because of a child-abuse investigation (Tyreek Hill). But this is an In-Mahomes-We-Trust pick, mostly. I wonder if you could ever say that a rookie picked as low as 56—that was the draft slot of the Chiefs’ top pick, Georgia receiver-returner Mecole Hardman—would enter a season as the rookie with the most pressure to produce at a high level from opening day. With Hill facing a possible suspension to start the season, or more significant banishment, Hardman’s a huge factor for the Chiefs. I went back and watched his highlights from the 2018 national title game against Alabama, and he made a couple of prime-time plays. He took a shotgun snap at quarterback from the ‘Bama 1-yard line, play-faked to Sony Michel, and beat three defenders around the left corner for a touchdown. Then he flashed his 4.33 speed down the right sideline, beating the Alabama corner for an 80-yard TD from Jake Fromm. But is Hardman as tough and competitive as Hill? Will he strike fear into defenses? We’ll see in a tough three-week open to the KC season: at Jacksonville, at Oakland, Baltimore at home.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

2. *NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2018: 14-5)

I just kept thinking as New England, round-by-round, let tight ends go by in the draft: Well, Bill Belichick knows he needs a tight end badly, and if he doesn’t take one, it must mean he didn’t love one, or he has plans beyond the draft. One of those plans, post-Gronk, was Ben Watson, who was highly peeved to not be active for the NFC title game as a Saint, and felt he had unfinished business as a player when he retired after the season. Watson, even at 38, is a useable player familiar with Patriot ways because he played for them for six years. I’m not sure Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be much of a factor either. And we’ll see who else comes available. Could Kyle Rudolph, for instance, in Minnesota, be a June cap casualty? That would be a golden piece for New England, though I have no idea if he’d sign with the Patriots if released. Looking at the Patriots this spring, I’m not going to sit here and kill them for not taking a Jace Sternberger in the draft. I, along with the rest of the media world, learned a lesson sometime around the fifth or sixth Super Bowl that Belichick and personnel czar Nick Caserio might know what they’re doing, and they usually figure out a better-than-competent roster to play with Tom Brady by November.

Quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts. (Getty Images)

3. *INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2018: 11-7)

My first surprise, having the Colts this high. I’m relying on Justin Houston an awful lot here. The Colts haven’t had a pass-rusher have a premier season since 2013, when Robert Mathis had his last great rush season with 19.5 sacks. Houston had an impact year at 29 last fall for Kansas City (14 games, 11 sacks, including playoffs), which is why the Colts outbid others for his services on the free market in March. But he missed 5, 12, 1 and 4 games (regular and postseason) in his last four Chief seasons, so this is a gamble. If the Colts get 12 effective games out of him—and if two or three or those are in the postseason—the investment will be worth it. Big if. You can tell I’m buying Houston being able to have one more strong year for a good team. I’m probably sold mostly by the fact I saw his last game for Kansas City—the overtime classic against New England in the AFC title game—and Houston played an astounding 95 of 97 snaps that cold Sunday at Arrowhead, frequently buzzing around Tom Brady.

See where the other 29 teams fall in Peter King’s Football Morning in America