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Colts Must Use Free Agency To Address Offensive Line Need

With free agency starting in less than a week, the Colts must be active in seeking out replacements for their offensive line.

Al Bello | Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS – When equating Chris Ballard’s first free agency as a general manager to the game of baseball, he made contact more often than not.

One place Ballard definitely swung and missed though was in evaluating his offensive line.

Ballard thought that Ryan Grigson had left enough young talent on the O-line to finally put to rest the endless questions surrounding that group’s inability to properly protect Andrew Luck.

In turn, Ballard’s only offensive line acquisitions of any significance last year came from signing Brian Schwenke (who had 8 starts the previous 2 years) and drafting Zach Banner (who was a redshirt 4th round pick with weight concerns).

Neither player was expected to seriously challenge for a starting job in 2017, and neither ever sniffed that.

Both were cut before the start of the regular season.

The offensive line went out in 2017 and again struggled in pass protection, ranking dead last in sacks allowed per pass attempt last year.

Another year of offensive line futility means the Colts must use their abundance of off-season resources on finding starting-caliber offensive linemen in free agency.

Chris Ballard has definitely not ruled out the draft, where he sees some pretty good interior options, or free agency, as avenues to re-build the line.

“I think we will keep both open,” Ballard says. “I don’t want to say no to free agency because I think there are going to be some veteran players out there. It just a matter of do they fit the value we have placed on them?”

The big names in free agency will be All-Pro offensive guard Andrew Norwell (Panthers), steady left tackle Nate Solder (Patriots) and the versatile Justin Pugh (Giants).

Any of those players would be significant upgrades to what the Colts currently have up front.

Going into 2018, there are not many guarantees for the offensive line.

Anthony Castonzo at left tackle and Ryan Kelly at center are probably the only definites for this fall. Jack Mewhort is heading for free agency and no one else on the offensive line deserves a sure fire starting spot going into 2018.

With how today’s college game has hurt many offensive linemen’s readiness to make an early transition to the NFL, that’s why finding your O-line fix(es) in free agency is something the Colts have to explore.

Frank Reich knows that is an area to improve, but he doesn’t want to put it all on the individuals playing up front.

“I can assure you this, when we talk about protection, protecting the quarterback, it’s an offensive unit thing,” Reich says. “Obviously, a lot of that goes into the offensive line. But scheme goes into that. We’ll call things that will get the ball out quick.

“We’ll look to improve. We’ll coach it. We’ll continue to add players who can help us in every aspect of protection. But I can assure you that protecting the quarterback will be a top priority.”

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