Colts still working out offensive line issues
The Indianapolis Colts have invested heavily in solving the protection issues that have plagued the team for the past four years. They haven’t found a solution quite yet, but there is still plenty of time before the 2016 season begins.
The Colts spent half of this years draft picks on offensive linemen. It started with the safest pick in the draft, center Ryan Kelly, in the first round. Kelly is already the presumptive starter at his position and is working hard to build a rapport with Andrew Luck.
With the addition of Kelly, that means the Colts are set at three of the five positions along the line. All that’s left is right guard and right tackle. As of today, the Colts have seven tackles, five guards, and three centers on the roster.
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GM Ryan Grigson is essentially trying to throw warm bodies at the problem and hoping that they stick. Incidentally, this is almost exactly what the Colts did last season with the defensive line, and what do you know, it worked! The d-line is likely going to be the deepest and most talented unit on the roster in 2016.
If the same strategy works for the offensive line, the Colts could see their offense reach greater heights than it did in 2014. Improved blocking will give Luck more time in the pocket and cleaner running lanes for Frank Gore, which will make the offense more dynamic. Both will reduce the number of hits that Luck accrues over the course of the season.
Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski spoke during minicamp about the ongoing battle for the remaining two spots on the line, noting that they won’t be decided until training camp at the end of July. Here’s what he had to say to Stephen Holder of the IndyStar:
"“I think the biggest place where you don’t get as much of a view of what things are is the offensive line,” Chudzinski said, acknowledging the lack of hitting permitted during offseason practices.“It’s an assignment period. There’s not a lot of real competition out there from that standpoint up front. They can’t hit each other, push around and finish blocks and see those things that are all about offensive line, the toughness in play and physicality and all those things. And that’s really what defines guys up front and, right now, it’s all just projection and looking at.”“We’ll get the best five out there at the end of the day and that will be an interesting competition,” Chudzinski said. “I’m looking forward to seeing those guys because I’m high on a lot of those young guys and some of the guys that we have back.”"
For right now, all the Colts can work on is minor technique and learning the new playbook. Even when they hit training camp, they still won’t be going full tilt against their teammates. It’s doubtful we’ll get a real look at the line until the Hall of Fame preseason game on August 7, and even then it is unlikely that will be the final unit.
Right now, Jonotthan Harrison is playing right guard (a new position for him after playing center for many years in the pros and college) and Joe Reitz is back at right tackle. Reitz did an admirable job last season at RT but he’s a better natural fit as a guard. Hugh Thornton has histrorically been the starter at right guard, but he’s missed all of OTAs and minicamp with an injury (which isn’t good for a player who is injury prone). He’s expected back by the start of camp, which will add another piece to the start competition.
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It would be a stretch to say that the Colts offensive line is going to be a position of strength in 2016. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be greatly improved over past seasons. Provided the eventual starters can remain mostly healthy, this is shaping up to be the best offensive line in Luck’s career.