Chris Ballard's first season focused on roster cleanup, defense and future

Mike Wells: Let's go beyond just the draft. Let's look at all the areas in Chris Ballard's first season as general manager of the Indianapolis Colts.

Up and down.

That's the easy answer and that's not necessarily a bad thing, either.

Ballard’s best move -- the trade to acquire quarterback Jacoby Brissett -- comes with asterisk. Brissett has given the Colts a glimmer of hope at times this season, but at the same time, Ballard waited too long to acquire another quarterback.

I'm surprised the Colts waited until a week before Week 1 to acquire Brissett, because it was pretty obvious during the offseason that Scott Tolzien wasn't capable of being the starter earlier and that there was a possibility that Andrew Luck would miss substantial time during the regular season.

Ballard was asked last month if he had any regrets on how he handled the quarterback situation. "Good question," he said. "I've thought a lot about that. So we always look. We're always looking. We're always gauging the market, we're always evaluating players and we're always evaluating the quarterback position because we know it's important. Just signing a player doesn't mean it's the answer. As we went through it, we didn't really see anybody we thought was the answer, that fit us at the time.

"We saw a couple guys that we liked that we tried to work some things out with; it just didn't work. But going and spending an inordinate amount of money just to feel good in that moment, just for the fans to feel good in that moment, for us to feel good in that moment so we can lay our heads down, that doesn't mean you're going to win on Sundays. That doesn't guarantee success. We just said we were going to have patience."

What I like about Ballard is that he's been upfront throughout when it comes to Luck's status. He not once said that Luck would definitely play this season. He consistently said he hoped the quarterback would play and that there was no timetable on his return. Ballard didn't give false hope about things with Luck.

I'm not sure if this is by design or by coincidence, but Ballard has been speaking on behalf of the organization throughout the regular season. Owner Jim Irsay hasn't spoken to the media since after the preseason finale against Cincinnati on Aug. 31. Irsay, I remind you, was the one who said Luck would be ready in the regular season and downplayed the right shoulder surgery.

This wasn't an easy situation for Ballard to jump into because of how the roster was constructed in the past. He immediately starting cleaning house by trimming excess fat -- and older players -- off the roster when he was hired late last January.

D’Qwell Jackson, Mike Adams, Art Jones, Trent Cole, Patrick Robinson, Dwayne Allen and Phillip Dorsett are some of the notable players that were released, traded or simply not re-signed.

The signings of Johnathan Hankins (28 tackles), John Simon (40 tackles, three sacks and an interception) and Al Woods (31 tackles) to a a defense that needed a major overhaul have been positive moves by Ballard. The same can be said about the re-signing of tight end Jack Doyle (59 receptions).

The defensive rebuild is coming along. They still need a pass-rusher, and don't be surprised if the Colts put a bigger emphasis on improving the offense during the offseason.

Rookie safety Malik Hooker (three interceptions), running back Marlon Mack (seven plays of at least 20 yards) and cornerback Nate Hairston (two sacks, one interception and five passes defended) have been starters or rotational players this season.

There have been some questions about a couple of the Colts draft picks. Offensive lineman Zach Banner, who was selected in the fourth round, was released when rosters were trimmed to 53 players. Cornerback Quincy Wilson, the team's second-round pick, has only played in two games this season. He's dealt with a knee injury part of the season. But it's the five healthy inactives that bring up warning flags.

Ballard's vision for the franchise is clear. Have a healthy Andrew Luck while building the roster through the draft and not going crazy on the free agent market will pay off. It's just going to take time. That's why it's early to pass complete judgment on the job he's done so far.