Colts O-line better, but not yet "fixed"
It was an impressive display of lateral movement, not to mention some wiggle.
This wasn’t a prospect trying to move up the Colts depth chart. This was offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski bobbing and weaving when asked about owner Jim Irsay’s recent claim the offensive line “is fixed.”
“Offensive line is a priority for us and improvement in that area is necessary,” Chudzinski said. “We have some guys that came a long way last year and made significant strides and improvement. But what was understandable yet not acceptable last season is not going to be understandable this season. So as guys grow, and you expect that kind of growth and improvement out of them at time goes, who grows and who improves the most and how it all plays out in the spring, we’ll get our chance to find out whether we’re ready to go or not and I expect us to be ready to go.”
So, despite Irsay’s bold words at a town-hall meeting for select season ticket holders last week, the offensive line is not fixed.
But it is getting there.
As the Colts wrapped up their offseason program Thursday, the position group on the roster that has faced the most criticism, been under the most scrutiny and undergone the most comprehensive change in the past 15 months has been one of the brightest spots. Even with left guard Jack Mewhort missing substantial time while recovering from knee surgery, there is much more continuity, stability and experience to draw from.
Since the players spent so much of their free time together during the offseason, there also is the chemistry necessary for a unit that must be the most symbiotic on the field. From all indications, the improvement that began to show last season has continued and in fact been hastened. After giving up 31 sacks in the first half of the season, they yielded 13 the rest of the way, including six in the last five games.
“They just kept working,” said offensive line coach Joe Philbin. “Let’s say you’re on the field for five or six hours during practice week and you’re in the meeting room and you hope that a player incrementally gets better as the year goes on. Do Ryan Kelly and Joe Haeg have a chance to grow a little bit more than Anthony Castonzo? Probably a little bit, but we’re not going to move mountains in one day or in one year. We have to just see if they can come in with the mindset that daily improvement is going to make me a better player at the end of the day.
“So that’s really all that we’re looking for as we get together – let’s get a little bit better, refine our technique, refine our fundamentals, play a little faster. The work that our strength and conditioning staff can do to get them to be a little quicker, a little stronger, all that will pay dividends.”
On the final day of minicamp, Kelly described the line as being “light years” ahead of where it was a year ago, when he was one of four draft picks trying to find their way. Kelly wound up starting all 16 games at center; fifth-rounder Joe Haeg started six games at three positions; and third-rounder Le’Raven Clark started the final three.
Assuming Mewhort is back for training camp, the left side of the line is locked, with Anthony Castonzo and Mewhort flanking Kelly. The right side, on the other hand, is still in a big of flux. Haeg and Denzelle Good both were primarily tackles in college but spent most of their time at guard. Clark was drafted to become the right tackle of the future and made progress last season but has not yet secured the job.
Veteran free agent signee Brian Schwenke adds depth at center and guard, while fourth-round pick Zach Banner is a massive specimen who may eventually forge his way into the mix at right tackle.
“We’ll go into camp open-minded,” said Chudzinski. “There’s nothing set as far as who’s going to be on that side, who’s going to be playing. We had a number of guys this spring who we didn’t get a chance to see as much of as we would’ve liked to and for offensive line especially, that’s one position that until those pads go on and those guys are out there having to fight their ass off every day that you find out. And really it boils down to availability and dependability. That’s what we’re going to be looking for when the pads come on.”
For that, we’ll have to wait until late July when the players return from their summer break. That’s when all involved will know a lot more of just how far this offensive line has come, and how far it must go.
Only then will we have tangible evidence of whether it is on the way to being fixed, or still under construction.
(Photo of offensive line coach Joe Philbin by Getty Images)