Much of the debate about what the Indianapolis Colts must address in the offseason has focused on the offensive line and a pass rusher.
So what’s the No. 1 need when the Colts pick 18th in the first round of the NFL draft?
General manager Ryan Grigson was asked that question during last week’s NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. He first spoke of the O-line.
“Obviously we need to protect our quarterback better,” Grigson said, referring to how the Colts were without injured quarterback Andrew Luck for nine games in an 8-8 2015.
“There are a lot of different ways to do that. I think that every team in this league knows, no matter if you have a line full of ones (first-round picks), your quarterback is going to get hit. You have to find ways, whether it be through acquiring better talent, smarter players, schemes. There are a lot of different ways to protect your quarterback. Obviously drafting is a very key component to building an offensive line.”
Head coach Chuck Pagano, when asked similar questions at the combine, zeroed in on the interior in suggesting the Colts must be better at both guard positions as well as center. He considers left tackle Anthony Castonzo, right tackle Denzelle Good, guard Jack Mewhort and versatile guard/tackle backup Joe Reitz as keepers.
“The center and two guard spots is the focal point,” Pagano said.
So what about a pass rusher? The Colts just released outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome after a recent arrest for marijuana possession. All-time sack leader Robert Mathis just turned 35 and is entering the final year of his contract. It’s fair to say the Colts are thin with edge rushers.
While Grigson conceded building a defense with new defensive coordinator Ted Monachino is a priority, he doesn’t see a deep draft class in edge rushers. While teams don’t usually give any any serious information about their plans, could this be an indication the Colts won’t use the first pick on an edge rusher?
“The old adage, you know, if you have 12 pass rushers, go get 13. But it’s easier said than done,” Grigson said. “The draft this year, there are some players. It’s not, personally in my opinion, as thick as you’d like. But those guys are at a premium. They go really high in the draft. The developmental guys, a lot of times they have their warts. There are different types of players. There are guys that can get to the quarterback a multitude of ways, but those pure edge rushers are the ones that command the big dollars. They’re the ones that are in everybody’s first-round mocks and all those types of things. Those are the guys that come to the forefront real quick.
“I think everybody knows how important the pass rush is. We’ve got to be able to build that. You do it through the draft for the most part. If you can get lucky and get a DPR or a role player here and there that can do some things for you. I think a lot of it also has to do with when you’re playing ahead or you’re not playing ahead. That factors in the production level of a lot of pass rushers. I think they’ll tell you the same thing.”
Pagano pointed to the pass rush when asked what was lacking from his 26th-ranked defense last season. The Colts tied for 22nd with 35 sacks.
“I think if you look at the teams that made the conference championships and then the final two, the pass rush stood out to me,” he said. “You can never have enough pass rushers. You can never have enough corners. But I think as far as getting after the quarterback, both those teams (Denver and Carolina) were able to do it with four guys. Sometimes they brought five, but you didn’t see it too often. But when you have the ability to put pressure on the quarterback and affect the quarterback the way that they did with four guys and you can play coverage and you can do certain things, drop seven into coverage a lot of times, it’s obviously very beneficial.”
But Pagano added, in reference to Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller, such game-changing pass rushers aren’t usually available.
“Everybody is going to look to find – Von Millers aren’t just falling out of the sky, all over the place (laughs),” he said. “I think he went No. 2 a few years ago. We aren’t picking (No.) 2. I haven’t evaluated this group yet. I don’t think he’s going to become available. I don’t think we have the resources to get a guy like that right now anyways. We got to find a way to develop young guys and try to find a way to get some guys like that on that side of the ball.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.