INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chris Ballard kept it simple for his first draft with the Indianapolis Colts.
He used his first three picks on defensive players, and then added three more defensive guys Saturday in hopes of fixing Indy’s most glaring flaw.
“You look at the good teams in this league, they play pretty good defense and that always keeps you in it,” said Ballard, who was hired as general manager in January. “So when your offense is having a bad day, great defense keeps you in it.”
There were times Ballard could have — and even considered — deviating from the Colts’ draft board to make a splashy move.
But after working with former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo and current Kansas City Chiefs GM John Dorsey, Ballard knew the key to drafting well would be maintaining his composure, and staying true to the evaluations.
The early results looked promising.
Indy used its first-round pick on playmaking Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, a projected top-10 selection who slid to No. 15.
The Colts grabbed Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson at No. 46 overall. The 6-foot-1, 213-pound Wilson could start immediately for a team that has no incumbent starter playing opposite Vontae Davis.
They took Ohio University edge rusher Tarell Basham in the third round. He could move into a key role for a team that had 33 sacks last season and lost its two best pass-rushers.
The defensive flurry continued Saturday when Indy chose 295-pound defensive tackle Grover Stewart from Albany State in the fourth round and closed out its draft weekend by selecting Temple cornerback Nate Hairston and Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. in the fifth round.
It was good enough to impress team owner Jim Irsay, who has waited years to see some defensive improvement.
“Defensively, we have to be good enough to finish games, and we have to be good enough to win games,” Irsay said.
Here are some other things the Colts learned over the past three days:
Ballard has added 13 new defensive players this offseason, including eight veterans he signed in free agency. The goal is to reach the top half of the league rankings after finishing near the bottom each of the past two seasons.
“If we can get to where we are just in the middle of the pack defensively, we’ve got a chance to take another step,” he said.
GOING FOR OFFENSE
Indy finally took two offensive players in the fourth round. The Colts chose 6-foot-9, 360-pound lineman Zach Banner from Southern California at No. 137, and then selected Marlon Mack, South Florida’s career leader in yards rushing, touchdown runs and all-purpose yards, at No. 143.
Indy’s final five picks were announced at the Indianapolis Zoo with the help of two orangutans, Azy and Rocky. While Colts vice chairwoman-owner Kalen Jackson and defensive tackles Hassan Ridgeway and Henry Anderson did the talking, the orangutans punched up the selections on a touchscreen computer.
Since quarterback Andrew Luck had shoulder surgery in January, nobody inside the organization has provided a target date for his return. Irsay said he’s healing well.
But Ballard made it clear Saturday that he won’t rush the three-time Pro Bowler back — even if it means holding Luck out of the start of training camp. That means Scott Tolzien and Stephen Morris will take the snaps, and Luck’s injury could keep the Colts in the market to sign another quarterback.
“We like Scott,” Ballard said. “We’d all love to have a backup quarterback who you can win 12, 13 games with, but we all know that’s not realistic. We’ll continue to look at it, just from a competition standpoint.”