Forget splashy, Colts' free-agent moves about building foundation

Defensive lineman Margus Hunt is typical of the free agents the Colts have signed so far -- players who weren't stars elsewhere but could flourish with an opportunity. AP Photo/Joe Robbins

INDIANAPOLIS -- Some people might have to Google some of the names of the players whom the Indianapolis Colts have signed through the first week of free agency.

While A.J. Bouye, Alshon Jeffery and Stephon Gilmore have been some of the headliners who have signed new deals, the Colts have signed players like John Simon, Margus Hunt and Jabaal Sheard.

None of the six outside free agents the Colts have signed to this point has drawn much attention. None of the six has made a Pro Bowl. The most notable player to visit them has been defensive lineman Dontari Poe on Sunday. New Colts general manager Chris Ballard has shied away from splashy moves, and the players they've signed are relatively young, are still eager and have a lot to prove in their careers.

That seems to be a theme for Ballard.

Take linebacker Barkevious Mingo, for instance. He was the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft, but he’s already on his third team in five seasons, and he didn’t have a sack in the past two seasons while predominantly being a special-teams player.

“Barkevious is a versatile linebacker who creates competition for our defense and special teams,” Ballard said. “He’s an athletic player who will fit in nicely with the culture we’re establishing here. We’re excited to see what he can bring to the table.”

Then there’s Hunt. The former second-round pick played 44 games without a start during his four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I feel like the past four years in Cincinnati really helped me to understand the pro game a lot more, and especially last year,” Hunt said. “I feel a lot more mature in understanding the game itself and what’s going on. Now it’s just a matter of putting it on the field and working my butt off to get to a point where I can really, really contribute to the team and help this team out. I feel like it’s a great opportunity at that.”

Offensive lineman Brian Schwenke has started 28 of the 41 games he’s played in, but he’s also missed 23 games. He’s replacing Jonotthan Harrison as Ryan Kelly’s backup at center while also being able to play guard if necessary.

Ballard is taking a piece-by-piece approach in restocking the roster. There won’t be many attempts at taking a shortcut because those pricey moves don’t always pan out. And the last thing the Colts can afford at this stage is to take any more steps back after missing the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.

That’s why Ballard often mentions competition and depth when talking about the roster. He wants every player, from the top of the roster all the way down, to compete for playing time and wants depth at all the positions.

“It’s a pretty young team; there are a lot of younger guys, but good guys, skilled,” Sheard said. “I talked to guys like [former Colts] D’Qwell Jackson and Pops [Mike Adams], and all those guys had nothing but great feedback, just telling me how the program is actually moving and how the coaches in the organization are going to do anything to get the organization back on track. What more do you need to hear?”