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Colts give up the goods on draft plans
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The Colts defense is starting to take take shape after a few free agent signings but there are still many holes to fill. Clark Wade

PHOENIX – ‘Tis the season for smokescreens and vague statements, when NFL decision makers tell you what best suits their purposes and protects their interests.

The draft is nearly upon us, making this a time when any seasoned observer knows to view everything with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Yet, the Colts don’t appear to be approaching this with much ambiguity at all. In fact, owner Jim Irsay, General Manager Chris Ballard and coach Chuck Pagano appeared largely forthright during this week’s NFL owners meetings.

For example: Irsay on Monday said the Colts were looking for possible opportunities to trade down and accumulate additional draft picks and Ballard, on Tuesday, actually doubled down.

“We need more,” Ballard said. “We won’t be (afraid to trade).”

And this isn’t simply an approach Ballard is taking because this draft is uniquely rich and deep in talent. It’s a mindset the first-year GM plans to employ throughout his tenure.

“In my mind, the more players you have a chance to acquire, it just makes sense to me,” Ballard said. “It just always has… The more picks you have, the more chances you have to hit on the player.”

Irsay: Colts will be conservative after Luck’s surgery

As for what kinds of players the Colts might target, we got some strong hints about that, too.

“We’d love, obviously, to deal with our lack of pass rush and get some real edge rushers that can make a difference,” Irsay said this week. “At the same time, the needs are many. We no question need a young corner and we would love to be able to, in the end, come away – like we had Vick Ballard in 2012 – that type of impact from a later draft pick, a running back, we would love to get a young back. We would love to have a back that can come in and help us offensively. We are going to be looking again at the best players. The draft is going to dictate to us.”

Said Pagano: “Obviously, defense will be a priority. We all know that. We will look to add a young runner on offense, maybe another piece to the offensive line. I think a young runner is paramount. There’s a lot of good running backs in this draft. So, it’s deep that way. Defensively, you can never have enough pass rushers, enough cover guys. It’s loaded with edge rushers and guys that can cover, so we feel good about it.”

Now, there’s a lot there. So, let’s dissect it a bit.

The pass rush need is self-explanatory. The Colts signed starting-caliber outside linebackers in free agency in Jabaal Sheard and John Simon, but neither is a true edge rusher in the traditional sense. Pagano referred to Sheard as a “hard-nosed, rugged… edge setter” who can “certainly rush the passer.”

So, the Colts are on the hunt for more classic pass rushers in the draft.

The cornerback situation was an important topic of discussion. The Colts, after recently releasing Patrick Robinson one year into a three-year contract, are in a precarious spot at this position. Pagano on Tuesday challenged No. 1 corner Vontae Davis to step up in what will be a contract year, saying, “We need consistent play out of Vontae. We need him to be there week after week after week. And we need him to be there for 16 weeks and play at a level that we know he can play at.”

But Davis is but one man. The Colts have no other proven starting cornerbacks outside of Darius Butler, who was re-signed largely to play safety.

As a result, cornerback has been a primary focus of the team’s draft prep.

“This is a really good draft when it comes to secondary,” Pagano said. “With the corners and safety prospects in this draft, you’re going to get a good player and it’ll be up to us how quickly we can develop those guys and get them on the field. There’s going to be some growing pains. But there’s great length, there’s great speed, guys with ball skills, guys with the skill set we’re looking for.”

Pagano didn’t name names, but cover corners who fit that profile near the top of the draft could include Gareon Conley of Ohio State (6-0, 195 pounds), Tre’Davious White of LSU, (5-11, 192 pounds) and Chidobe Awuzie of Colorado (6-0, 202 pounds).

The running back theme was one that was repeated often. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Colts will use their 15th overall pick on a running back like Dalvin Cook. But it does mean the Colts are rightfully planning for life after Frank Gore, who turns 34 in May. Those plans clearly include drafting a back. On Tuesday, Ballard also mentioned that he’d like to see backup Robert Turbin get more first- and second-down carries if the coaches see fit, seen as a way to spell Gore and maximize Turbin’s abilities.

One year after selecting four offensive linemen in the 2016 draft, the Colts might not be done. Ballard stopped short of saying that the team’s starting five is on the current roster, preferring to wait and see what the draft potentially has to offer. Pagano, unprompted, mentioned offensive line as a draft need. This time, the Colts aren’t likely to select multiple linemen. But, as Pagano put it, “maybe another piece.”

The Colts are either very convincing liars, or they just laid out a pretty specific blueprint of how they’re approaching this draft.

Given the time of year, one really never knows.

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