Second-year Colts general manager Chris Ballard has used five NFL draft picks in two days on prospects he is hoping will toughen up his rebuilding team in the trenches.
Granted Seth Jones Jersey , the needs are numerous for a franchise that finished 4-12 last year and has missed the playoffs for three consecutive years, but Ballard bypassed skill-position players for a second consecutive day with Friday's second-round selections of South Carolina State outside linebacker Darius Leonard, Auburn guard Braden Smith, Rutgers defensive end Kemoko Turay and Ohio State defensive end Tyquan Lewis.
The Colts moved up three spots in a trade with Cleveland to select Lewis with the final choice of the second round. That's four of five players taken who play along the line after Ballard used Thursday's No. 6 overall pick on Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson.
"No question the emphasis on our fronts, the front seven on defense and the O-line," Ballard said. "I had some frustrating moments last year, where I thought physically we didn't match up against teams, especially in our (AFC South) division. It's hard to sustain winning when your foundation, your O-line and your D-line, aren't good."
Nelson and Smith signify a concerted effort to better protect quarterback Andrew Luck, who missed all of 2017 due to shoulder surgery. The Colts allowed a league-high 56 sacks last season.
It's just the third time since 1970 that the Colts have used first- and second-round selections on offensive linemen. In 2011, they added current starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo in the opening round and guard Ben Ijalana in the second. In 1997, they drafted eventual Pro Bowl left tackle Tarik Glenn in the first and guard Adam Meadows in the second.
New head coach Frank Reich, an assistant with the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles last season, attributed the championship to the play of the fronts on both sides of the ball.
"It's not a new philosophy Ryan Miller Jersey ," he said. "I'm glad Chris and I share that same belief. That's a conviction we're going to stick to."
Nelson, lauded for his physical style and nastiness, was generally regarded as the draft's best guard prospect. Smith, a 6-6 and 315-pound lineman named to All-SEC teams in his last three years, allowed just 11 hurries in 1,103 pass-blocking snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
"It's about competition," Reich said. "My experience has been you're not looking for five starters, you're looking for eight or nine starters on the offensive line. That's usually the way it roles in the year. You want that depth."
But a 29th-ranked defense that ranked next to last in sacks is also in need of an identity and playmakers. Leonard, a MEAC defensive player of the year taken with the 36th overall pick, is projected to be a weak-side linebacker who can play all three downs in the Colts' new 4-3 scheme. The 6-2 and 234-pound defender has the skills to not just make tackles but rush the passer and cover tight ends.
"The athlete, the speed, that's what we want at linebacker," Ballard said. "We want guys who can play in space and close to the football. You have to do that with speed."
Leonard boosted his stock against quality competition, particularly with a season-high 19 tackles against Clemson and 14 tackles in the Senior Bowl.
Turay Thurman Thomas Jersey , the highest-drafted defensive end in Rutgers history, has impressive pass-rush skills but not the gaudy statistics; he started nine of 12 games and had 65 tackles, seven for loss, with four sacks last season. He's raw and considered somewhat of a project, and his development was slowed by two shoulder surgeries in college.
But Ballard sees tremendous upside.
"He didn't look like a project at the Senior Bowl," Ballard said. "He looked like the freaking best pass rusher at the game."
Smith, a two-time All-Big Ten first-team selection, had 9.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks for the Buckeyes last season.
"You win up front," Ballard said. "You win when you rush. You win with speed. That's how we're going to play. We're going to play with waves, seven and eight defensive linemen."
The Colts parted with a sixth-round pick in the Browns deal, but added a fifth-round selection in a trade with the Eagles by moving down three spots in the second round before taking Turay. That gives the Colts a fourth-round pick, two in the fifth and one in the seventh as the draft comes to a close on Saturday.
Mark Gastineau made an emotional plea to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to help him and former players who are dealing with what he claims are football-related health issues.
The former New York Jets star said during a radio interview on 710 WOR Radio in New York that aired Thursday night that he wants ailing players to be taken care of by the NFL. The 61-year-old Gastineau announced last year that he was diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, and believes the conditions are the result of brain trauma from playing in the NFL for 10 seasons.
”I want the NFL to treat people right,” Gastineau said during the interview. ”They’ve got to. They have to.”
Gastineau said Goodell told him when they talked at a Jets game over a year ago that he should let him know if he needs anything.
”The Commissioner told me Matt Breida Jersey , he said, `Listen, Mark, you know what? You need anything, let me know,”’ Gastineau told host Pete McCarthy. ”He was my ball boy. I treated him great. He told me. … Hey, Roger Goodell, treat people right.”
An NFL spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment on Gastineau’s statements.
Gastineau is the Jets’ career sacks leader and was one of the NFL’s most recognizable stars because of his entertaining dances after taking down quarterbacks for New York from 1979-88. He and Goodell have known each other since the early 1980s, when Goodell interned in the Jets’ public relations department.
”I want to hold you to your promise, Roger Goodell,” Gastineau said. ”You said, `Anything I need! I want the players to be treated right.”
Gastineau, who was joined by his wife JoAnn and lawyer Jason Luckasevic, began to cry during the interview when he spoke of his daily struggles to get out of bed and remember people’s names.
”My brain isn’t the same,” he said. ”My wife Authentic Carl Gunnarsson Jersey , she and I used to go around and do yard work,” Gastineau said while crying. ”But you know what? She does everything now for me. … It’s not good, it’s not good.
”When I’m laying in bed until 3, 4 or 5 (p.m.), it’s not good. There will be days I get up and I’m good. … My wife will tell you, she helps me get out of bed … and she’ll help me remember names. I used to think I was all that, I did. But you know what? I was nothing. You know why? Because of what happened to me.”
Gastineau, who said he routinely cracked his and other players’ helmets during big hits in practices and games, dabbled in boxing after retiring from football and had 17 professional fights. He is a plaintiff in the concussion lawsuit against the NFL, but has not received any money as a result. JoAnn Gastineau said NFL doctors questioned her husband’s dementia diagnosis, but approved it in October after eight months. She said the NFL sent a notice to Luckasevic 30 days later saying it was appealing the settlement again for Gastineau’s Parkinson’s diagnosis.
”The NFL is wrong,” Gastineau said. ”The NFL is wrong, they’re wrong. I’m not telling them to give me zillions of dollars. I don’t want zillions of dollars. I just want to be treated with respect.”
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