Colts enter final day of draft with 5 picks
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indianapolis Colts made some big upgrades on draft weekend.
First, they found extra protection for Andrew Luck, then they reinforced the run defense.
Now comes the hard part - waiting to see if the new guys measure up to the expectations and can get the Colts back to the playoffs.
''We're ecstatic about what we did with the offensive line,'' team owner Jim Irsay said even before the draft was complete. ''We really feel like we made significant improvement on the line.''
There was little doubt which direction the Colts' draft board would take when the weekend began - fixing an offensive line that allowed Luck to be hit more than any other quarterback in 2013 and 2014 and one that couldn't keep Luck healthy in 2015.
The only real surprise was how much of an emphasis general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano made it.
Indy used four of its eight picks on offensive line including two college centers.
''Early on there were a lot of good names up there and the value was pretty much in line with the board,'' Grigson said. ''Then late in the draft, they were the best guys up there.''
It was a significant investment in Luck, who also is in the midst of negotiating a contract extension that will keep in Indianapolis.
After filling their biggest need by taking the top-rated center, 6-foot-4, 313-pound Ryan Kelly, at No. 18 overall Thursday, the Colts took 6-5, 316-pound tackle Le'Raven Clark in the third round Friday.
Grigson was back at it Saturday. He took 6-6, 293-pound guard Joe Haeg, who was part of five straight FCS championships at North Dakota State, in the fifth round 290-pound Austin Blythe in the seventh round. Blythe played center and guard at Iowa.
And all four could compete for playing time this fall.
''It gives us a lot of options about who we want to play at guard or tackle, whether we want to move (Denzelle) Good to guard,'' Irsay said. ''It gives us a lot of flexibility and we feel like we are a better team.''
But even as the Colts stockpiled linemen, they also made moves to fix a run defense that allowed nearly 2,000 yards, 4.3 yards per carry and finished tied for 21st in the league.
They began by taking big-hitting safety T.J. Green in the second round and used their two fourth-round choices on 314-pound defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway of Texas and inside linebacker Antonio Morrison of Florida.
Both are considered good run stuffers and Indy is hoping Ridgeway will improve the interior pass rush, too.
Still, there are concerns about both.
Ridgeway dealt with back and shoulder injuries before leaving Texas with one year of eligibility remaining and some scouts have questioned where he'll play with consistent effort.
Morrison had knee surgery twice since 2013 before returning last season to play 14 games and record 103 tackles.
He also was arrested twice during a five-week span in 2013, receiving deferred prosecution for a simple battery charge after he allegedly punched a bouncer. He later was charged with resisting arrest and barking at a police dog though those charges were later dropped.
The 6-foot-1, 229-pound Illinois native insists those days are over.
''That's in the past. I was 18 years old when all those things happened. I'm 21 right now. All that stuff is behind me,'' Morrison said. ''What's done is done. I'm just looking ahead.''
The only real deviation Grigson made was with the first of two seventh-round picks when he took Maine linebacker Trevor Bates. But Pagano said later that Bates could play inside linebacker, too.
And even though, the Colts took no skill position players on offense, Pagano and Grigson believe that the draft weekend strategy will pay huge dividends later this year.
''Hopefully all that new blood that comes in here, we keep cultivating that culture, they buy in from Day 1,'' Grigson said. ''It will go a lot quicker that way.''
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