Ballard's workdays getting even busier as NFL draft looms

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Chris Ballard spent most of the offseason reworking the Indianapolis Colts' defense.

He may not be finished yet.

With draft weekend approaching, Indy's new general manager is still poring over game tape, looking for helpful information in every nook and cranny, and meeting with scouts well into prime-time hours. Yes, he's doing everything he can to get the Colts back into the playoffs and in contention for a championship as quickly as possible.

"We're going to be active. We're going to be active in the draft. We're going to be active claiming players," he said Wednesday. "We're going to be active working guys out. We're going to be active signing future guys. We're always going to be looking to get better. We're always going to be looking to up the competition level."

And not just on defense.

For now, though, Ballard has been focused primarily on shoring up a unit that has yet to finish in the top half of the league's defensive rankings during coach Chuck Pagano's five-year tenure.

Ballard appears to be making inroads.

The Colts have signed four free agent linebackers since early March, adding depth to what had been one of the thinnest positions on the roster.

They brought in three new defensive linemen, even waiting until last week to make their biggest splash by adding tackle Johnathan Hankins .

What's next is anybody's guess because the Colts have a long list of needs.

They're looking for a starting cornerback, additional pass rushers; more help along the offensive line; depth at tight end; a possible successor for soon-to-be 34-year-old running back Frank Gore; and maybe even a developmental quarterback as Andrew Luck continues to recover from offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder .

Luck may not get back on the field until training camp opens in July.

So there's no time for Ballard to take a break.

"I don't know if you ever have it perfect to where you have the perfect 53, plus the 10-man practice squad," he said. "There is always going to be activity. We knew we had some holes that we needed to fill, and I thought free agency helped us do it."

The next phase starts next Thursday, when the Colts are slotted to pick No. 15.

Indy starts the draft with seven picks -probably not enough to fix everything unless Ballard gets creative .

The Colts are currently about $12.6 million under the salary cap and could still find some free-agent bargains. Ballard hasn't ruled it out.

Indianapolis could also make some trades to pick up additional draft picks. Ballard hasn't ruled that out either, and with a rookie class that Ballard called the deepest he can recall at safety and tight end, some teams could be interested in making moves with the Colts.

In fact, Ballard hasn't taken oft-criticized running back Joe Mixon off the board. The reason: He's still doing some homework on Mixon.

Regardless of what direction the Colts go or who they take, one thing has become clear. Ballard won't be bullied into making the popular pick over the best choice.

"If it's even, we'll go with the need," Ballard said. "If there is one thing we will not do, if there is a player in a round, even if we are loaded at the position, we will still take the player. I take Dee Ford as an example, we had Tamba Hali and Justin Houston that were humming, but we saw a player that we liked in Kansas City that could rush the passer and that is who we ended up choosing."

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Updated April 19, 2017