March 01, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard spent the past six weeks studying game footage, meeting with coaches and handing out scouting assignments.

It's been a grueling, almost round-the-clock cram session to get ready for the next two months.

On Wednesday, a little more than a month after taking the job, Ballard reappeared. He sounded confident and relaxed talking into a microphone for the first time at the NFL's annual scouting combine, and explained that he has a plan to get the Colts righted.

''Competitive, speed and toughness, we will continue to look for that,'' Ballard said Wednesday, describing what he'll be seeking in free agency and the draft. ''We add a few players and then all of a sudden things get flooded.''

Details were scant. But the Colts appear to need more than just a few players to fix an aging, long-struggling defense.

Ballard already released 33-year-old inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson in a cost-cutting move last month. Outside linebacker Robert Mathis, the franchise's career sacks leader, announced his retirement before the season finale.

Indy's other starting outside linebacker and last season's sacks leader, 31-year-old Erik Walden, will become a free agent next Thursday if the Colts' don't sign him. Trent Cole, another pass-rushing linebacker, isn't expected to return at age 34.

Ballard also has some tough calls still to make.

Releasing 30-year-old defensive lineman Art Jones, who has played in just 17 of 48 games since signing a five-year, $33 million contract in 2014, would save the team $5.1 million. Cutting 29-year-old cornerback Patrick Robinson, who battled injuries last season, would save Indy an additional $2.5 million.

Ballard didn't drop any hints about what he would do with those two.

One thing is clear: If the Colts make a play in free agency, they're going to target productivity over name recognition.

''When we do dip into free agency and sign other players, we have to be right on the player we sign,'' Ballard said. ''The locker room is watching, so in my mind that guy has to be a worker, he has to be a good teammate, he has to earn it, he has to earn that money and earn that right. And he has to be a fit, he has to be a fit for what you are doing.''

Ballard has to deal with other concerns, too.

Quarterback Andrew Luck continues to rehab from offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder. Ballard declined to say whether Luck would be ready when offseason workouts begin in April.

After becoming the league's oldest 1,000-yard rusher in 32 years, 33-year-old Frank Gore is entering the final year of his contract.

A porous offensive line could still use help. Pro Bowl punter Pat McAfee retired unexpectedly in January and defensive tackle David Parry was arrested Saturday night in Scottsdale, Arizona, on suspicion of assaulting the driver of a motorized cart and then stealing and crashing the vehicle. Ballard and Parry met Monday as team officials continued gathering details of the alleged crimes.

But with the start of free agency looming and frustrated Colts fans looking for changes, Ballard offered more optimism than specifics.

''I think we have some good pieces to work with, absolutely,'' Ballard said. ''Players have to earn it and the way you make them earn it is by creating competition at every position every year. So we are going to always be digging, looking for talent, no matter if we had just won the Super Bowl, it doesn't matter.''


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