Colts owner Jim Irsay met with new offensive line coach Joe Philbin recently to beat home the importance of improving the team’s protection and blocking.
One of the biggest needs for the Colts this offseason is improving their offensive line. When looking at the list of team needs, the line is certainly near the top of the list. Irsay singled out the line at his press conference with coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson just after the season ended.
Despite stressing continuity at that press conference, the Colts went ahead and fired nearly all the assistant coaches and coordinators. Among the new hires was former Miami head coach Joe Philbin who was essentially brought in to fix the offensive line.
The goal is give Andrew Luck a level of protection he hasn’t had in his four years in the league. They’d also like to be able to effectively run block (which would also help limit the opportunities for opponents to hit Luck).
In his meeting with Philbin, Irsay made it clear how important this was to him and the future of the team. Kevin Bowen at Colts.com spoke with Philbin about his plan going forward this week.
"“You have to build a relationship with the players that you coach,” Philbin says of the first thing he wanted to accomplish in joining the Colts staff.“I’ve reached out to each and every one of them. I’ve talked to all of them on the phone. They seem like an outstanding group of men. Four or five of them have already stopped by the office and I’ve had a chance to visit with those guys in person. That’s job No. 1, getting to know the people you are interacting with on a daily basis.”"
Part of the offensive line puzzle is improving the personnel. Realistically, the Colts have just two quality offensive linemen (Anthony Castonzo and Jack Mewhort). The rest of the line was awful this season.
This responsibility falls on Grigson, who simply has to do a better job of finding, evaluating, and bringing in talent. The Colts need a new center, right guard, and possibly right tackle (although Joe Reitz wasn’t bad, he’d be better suited to play guard). Grigson has made plenty of moves over the past three years to improve the line, but all but one haven’t panned out.
Philbin also spoke about the importance of the offensive line to the whole of the team.
"“They are the heart and soul of the football team, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Philbin says. “They kind of dictate the tempo of the team.“As you know, we’ve got some outstanding skill players here in Indianapolis. Very, very fortunate (to have them). It’s the O-line’s job to let those guys make plays in a game, when it counts. You have to be unselfish. There is a great coordination that has to take place with the offensive line working together.”"
Philbin will also be dealing with a lot of young players who could stand to polish up their technique. That means he won’t just be tweaking the team’s blocking schemes this year.
"“Football is a game of fundamentals, execution and teamwork,” Philbin says. “Those are really the three things that you focus on along the offensive line. Whether it’s run blocking or pass blocking, there’s a certain way to do things.“We all have to get on the same page, believe in what we’re doing, believe in how we are doing it and then we have to function as a team. We can’t have our own little groups. We have to be our own group and have pride in the offensive line.”"
The Colts can do themselves a lot of favors by finding the best collection of five players for the line and sticking with them throughout the season (or as much as possible). The past two seasons have seen the Colts tinker with the lines early in the year, making adjustments that should have happened in the preseason.
Heading into 2016 the Colts have a tie between their top two needs: offensive line and pass rush. Both are critical to the team’s success moving forward.