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Colts making chicken salad on O-line

Khaled Holmes limped out of the preseason opener after seven snaps. (Photo: Icon SMI)

When it comes to turning lesser ingredients into chicken salad, or lemonade, depending on which analogy you prefer, the Colts have become master chefs.

All things considered, they’d rather get out of the kitchen.

For the third consecutive year, injuries are roasting the offensive line, stretching the depth, challenging the continuity and mitigating the team’s ability to get the most out of what could be a prolific offense that is otherwise flush with talent.

It is a situation that is testing even Chuck Pagano’s usually unfettered optimism.

“Yeah, it's extremely difficult,” he said. “That’s a credit to our offensive coaches, especially the O-line guys, Joe Gilbert, Hal Hunter, and Frank Giufre, they do a great job cross-training all those guys and it's hard because you want continuity. You'd love to be able to line up week in and week out the same lineup and play 16 games with the same five.

“They had different lineups last year and it looks like the way things are going now with the injuries that we've had, it's been difficult to get through the first portion of camp and the first preseason game with continuity so it's a challenge. We've got smart guys, tough guys, good coaches who will put these guys in the right spots and give them the information they need to be successful.”

Anthony Castonzo has been a rock at left tackle, starting 44 of 48 games in his three seasons. Gosder Cherilus has brought strength and stability to right tackle. The interior of the line, however, has proven a different story.

Even at full health, there were questions about the ability of second-year pros Khaled Holmes and Hugh Thornton to assert themselves. When veteran Donald Thomas was lost for the second straight season with a turn quadriceps, the group got even younger as rookie Jack Mewhort moved in at left guard – giving the Colts three players who had never started an NFL regular-season game at their respective positions.

Wait, it gets worse.

Holmes went down on the first series of the first preseason game Thursday against the Jets with a sprained left ankle. Backup tackle Ulrick John reportedly sustained a broken ankle, while another backup tackle, Xavier Nixon, recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery.

And then came practice Sunday, when Jonotthan Harrison, an undrafted free agent rookie from Florida who is filling in for Holmes, couldn’t finish practice for undisclosed reasons. Neither could Mewhort, who needed to ice down the same right knee that needed a scope after minicamp.

Though Holmes is expected back in time for the regular-season opener Sept. 7 in Denver, he will lose preparation time that takes on exponential importance for a player that had just 12 snaps of experience as a rookie. If he is unable to play in any of the three remaining preseason games, Holmes will have those 12 snaps, plus seven in the Jets game, as the sum total of his live-action experience.

The Colts have been impressed by Harrison in practice, but the importance of the center-quarterback relationship was illustrated against the Jets, when the rookie authored two bad snaps – one on third-and-goal from the Jets’ 5-yard line – that cost the Colts 25 yards and a potential touchdown.

“Yeah it is, it is a little different,” said Andrew Luck. “It takes a play or two to sort of get it out of your mind, ‘Okay, there’s a new center in.’ The biggest difference is everybody’s stance is a little different and where that ball hits is a little different.

“We talked about that’s why it’s so important in practice. Our coaches do a great job making sure every quarterback gets snaps with every center whether it’s in a drill, on the side or in a two-minute practice situation.”

In 2012, the Colts used six starting combinations up front. Of the eight players that started at some point, only two (Castonzo and Joe Reitz) are still with the team.

In 2013, the Colts used seven starting combinations. Of the nine players that started at some point, three are gone (Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach) and two others are injured (Thomas and Nixon).

Time for the coaches to pull out the mayo, hard-boiled eggs and pickles and see what they can do with this latest batch of feathers.


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