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Insiders: 51 questions for Chris Ballard at his State of the Colts address

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Anthony Castonzo retires: What that means for Colts

IndyStar Colts Insider Jim Ayello discusses Anthony Castonzo’s retirement, including why he did it and where the Colts go from here.

Jim Ayello, [email protected]

INDIANAPOLIS — It is once again time to learn what the architect thinks. Thursday at 1 p.m., Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard is slated to conduct his year-end news conference. 

Odds are the tone of this talk will be more upbeat that last year’s, which followed a 7-9 season that began with the surprise retirement of the franchise quarterback. With an offseason to react to Andrew Luck’s departure, the 2020 Colts were in almost every way an improved product. From winning 11 games, to reaching the playoffs and pushing the Buffalo Bills to the brink, to the young nucleus Ballard has built, the Colts can be viewed as a team on the rise in the AFC.

But are they good enough to overcome the conference elite?

The Colts are not a team without question marks dotting the roster. Despite the stellar play they received from Philip Rivers this season, he is not the future of the position. Will he back in 2021 as they continue to look for the quarterback who is?

What are they going to do at left tackle with Anthony Castonzo now an ex-Colt? Can the defense be consistently elite? 

Last year, we put together 50 questions to ask Ballard; this year we’re going for 51. One percent better, right?

(Note: These are questions we think Ballard can or would answer. Questions like: “Who is your favorite quarterback in the draft?” are not here because he wouldn’t answer.

Big picture

1. Is this team close to being a Super Bowl contender? What’s missing?

2.  Have you parted way with any coaches?

3. Are there plans to expand the staff on either side of the ball as you did last season when adding Mike Groh?

4. What’s the balance between rewarding your own players and knowing when to cut the cord?

Quarterback

5. Do you know yet if you’re bringing back Philip Rivers? What was your evaluation of him this season?

6. Do you believe that at age 39/40, he could play at the same level or better next season?

7. Can you outline the steps for determining if Rivers returns next season? Is the first step of the timeline determining if he wants to come back? If so, have you set a deadline for when you’d want to know?

8. Do you still believe Jacoby Brissett can/will be a starting quarterback in the NFL? If so, is he a candidate you’ll consider here in 2021? 

9. You’ve historically made it a priority to roster a high-caliber backup quarterback. Is Jacob Eason ready to play that role for you next season?

10. In general, do you think traditional pocket-passers are being phased out of the NFL?

Frank Reich

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Emotional Frank Reich – ‘I want them all back’

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich gets emotional discussing wanting everyone to return next season.

Clark Wade, [email protected]

11. How would you assess Frank Reich’s third season with the team?

12. How much faith do you have in Reich’s ability to develop a young quarterback?

13. Reich often says his aggressive nature isn’t only his but an organizational approach. We know team owner Jim Irsay is more traditional in some regards; where do you fit on that spectrum? 

Offense

14. Do you think Jonathan Taylor can serve as the bell cow going forward or will you look to add another running back to partner with him and Nyheim Hines?

15. Marlon Mack suffered what could be a career-altering injury. Depending on how he recovers, will you consider bringing him back?

16. T.Y. Hilton’s numbers dipped from previous years; do you believe that’s a product of the offense, of Hilton’s abilities waning with age or something else? 

17. Given what’s happened to Parris Campbell over the past couple of years, can you trust him going forward to be a big part of your plans at wide receiver?

18. Michael Pittman Jr.’s overall numbers weren’t spectacular, but he certainly showed flashes of huge potential. Does he have No. 1 wide receiver upside?

19. Is Mo Alie-Cox ready to play a bigger role in this offense?

20. When you signed Anthony Castonzo to a two-year extension last offseason, did you expect you’d have until 2022 to find his heir? 

21. How do you feel about your offensive line depth? Do you feel like you had enough this season, understanding that it was impossible to predict you’d need a half-dozen left tackles?

22. How important is retaining Braden Smith? Is he an option to play left tackle?

23. Reich said Quenton Nelson is an option to replace Castonzo, but is it fair to say the preference is to keep him at left guard where he’s a three-time All-Pro?

Defense

24. Is there a set-in-stone succession plan if Matt Eberflus leaves? Or a Plan B? Are there any details of that process you could share? Would you have to find someone who runs the same scheme?

25. What is your evaluation of Eberflus this season?

26. The AFC right now is loaded with excellent young quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert. Trevor Lawrence might be part of that group soon; do you feel like you have a defense that’s capable of keeping you in games against these quarterbacks for the foreseeable future? 

27. Safe to assume DeForest Buckner was everything you hoped he’d be when you acquired him, but how concerning was the game he didn’t play — at home against Tennessee? While there is no replacing Buckner if he were out, how important is it to have a suitable backup at the 3-technique?

28. Not a guy we talked a lot about this year, but in his three years in Indianapolis, quietly stacked some impressive numbers: 100 tackles, 20 sacks, 26 tackles for loss. How important was Denico Autry to what the defense accomplished both in his tenure and this season?

29. Another free agent success story was Justin Houston, not just on the field but off as well. How important was he to what you accomplished, and at 32, do you feel like he has more left in the tank?

30. After investing so much draft capital in the edge rush — with little return so far — do you need to change the way you evaluate the position?

31. Given the injury he suffered, do you feel like you can trust Kemoko Turay to be a key contributor next year, which also happens to be his last one under contract?

32. Ben Banogu was inactive for seven games and didn’t make much of an impact when he did play. What does he need to do to have a future with the team?

33. Last year at this time you said Bobby Okereke has something real special in his body. Did you see special this season?

34. You gave three linebackers more snaps than most teams; is that something you want to continue to do?

35. What was your evaluation of Rock Ya-Sin’s progress this season? Did he take the steps forward you were hoping he would?

36. How pleased were you with the production you got from a pair of one-year deals in Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie? 

37. Do you feel like you have your safety tandem locked down for the next couple of years at least with Julian Blackmon and Khari Willis?

Special teams

38. What did you think of Rodrigo Blankenship’s rookie season? Did his misses down the stretch worry you and will you consider bringing in competition for him next season?

39. You’ve been part of teams with special return men. Does Isaiah Rodgers have a chance to be that type of guy? He didn’t get a lot of run at cornerback this season; what’s his upside there?

40. You invested a lot of draft capital in specifically improving the special teams with players like Rodgers and Jordan Glasgow? Are those units where you want them to be?

Draft

41. How much different was scouting this season? How did you and your staff adapt? Obviously, all teams are operating from the same disadvantages, but will this be the least-informed draft you’ve taken part in?

42. How will you evaluate players who either didn’t play this year or maybe played only one game? How wary will you be of players like that in the draft, if at all?

43. If there is no NFL Scouting Combine this season, how will that disrupt what you do? Have you started contingency planning for that?

44. As GM of the Colts, you’ve never drafted with the league minimum number of picks (seven). Is it safe to assume you want more and might be motivated to trade back?

Misc. 

45. Does anyone on the team need surgery? Thinking specially about Rivers (toe) but anyone else? Willis? Mo Alie-Cox?

46. Would you like to see some of the COVID-19 roster rules continue?

47. Have you been in contact with the guys who opted out (Marvell Tell, Rolan Milligan Skai Moore)? 

48. Last year you said this team was suffering too many injuries. Do you feel like this year was better or worse at limiting the types of injuries you have some control over (i.e. soft tissue)?

49. This question assumes a few things, but in the near future you might not have as much cap flexibility as you’ve maintained throughout the first four years of your tenure. Is that a concern?

50. What does it say about your organization that Ed Dodds, Morocco Brown and Eberflus are sought-after by other teams?

51. How do the Colts plan to continue to address social justice issues going into the future?  

Follow IndyStar Colts Insider Jim Ayello on Twitter: @jimayello. 

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