Colts Conclude Draft With 4 O-Line Picks

On-the-mend Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck should have best offensive line he's played behind since entering NFL in 2012.

The first time the Indianapolis Colts allow a sack in 2016, new offensive line coach Joe Philbin can count on hearing about it.

Head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson couldn’t help but joke about how they took care of Philbin with four of the team’s eight NFL draft selections being offensive linemen. 

“We’ve invested a lot in his meeting room, so there’s a ton of pressure on Joe. P. as well,” Pagano said, prompting the coach and general manager to chuckle. “Yeah, he’s going to get some sideways looks the first sack we give up. We’ve got it at five. Five’s the goal for the season, so the heat’s on Joe’s ass, believe me."

Pagano paused, as if wondering about how much truth there was in the statement, then relented with, "No, I'm just kidding. You know that, right?"

It’s the first time since the Colts arrived in Indianapolis in 1984 that they’ve taken four offensive linemen in one draft. It didn’t start out that way Saturday as the Colts got defensive with the fourth-round selections of Texas defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway and Florida inside linebacker Antonio Morrison

In the fifth round, North Dakota State offensive tackle Joe Haeg became the team’s third O-line draft choice. In the final round, after Maine outside linebacker Trevor Bates was selected, the Colts finished the draft with Iowa center-guard Austin Blythe.

The Colts took Alabama center Ryan Kelly in Thursday’s opening round, then on Friday added Clemson safety T.J. Green in the second round and Texas Tech offensive tackle Le'Raven Clark in the third round.

When Saturday’s opening question was being asked about the O-line, Grigson interrupted with an amused, “Shocking question!” He and Pagano laughed, the kind of hearty chuckles of two men extremely content with the work they had done. 

“Early on, there were a lot of really good names up there and we went after ‘em,” Grigson said. “But the value was pretty much in line on the board at a lot of different position groups. We had a lot of different discussions. And then late in the draft, there were some guys sitting up there and we just wanted to take ‘em. They were the best guys up there. Even the last guy, he was in our top 30.”

Owner Jim Irsay said strengthening the offensive line to better protect franchise quarterback Andrew Luck was the No. 1 priority. And that was repeated. Then Grigson and Pagano acknowledged that emphasis during February’s NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

During the sixth round, in which the Colts didn’t have a pick, Irsay visited with reporters and expressed his satisfaction with how the draft was going. Part of the owner’s business lately has been discussing a new contract extension for Luck that could be as much as $25 million per year. Nobody has taken more hits than Luck since he entered the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in 2012. Irsay doesn’t want to commit himself to more than $100 million of damaged goods.

“We are ecstatic about what we’ve done with the offensive line,” Irsay said. “We are ecstatic that the board led us down that path because we really feel we have made some significant process along the offensive line.”

The annual goal is for depth to breed healthy competition come training camp. But the Colts haven’t had enough depth for that to happen as much as desired since the Grigson/Pagano Era began in 2012. The work in these past three days suggests there won’t be a shortage of camp competitions.

While Kelly is expected to be penciled in at center, who plays right guard and right tackle is up in the air. Versatile backup Joe Reitz, second-year pro Denzelle Good and former third-round pick Hugh Thornton are considerations. But now throw Clark, Haeg and Blythe into the mix. Grigson said Blythe can play guard or back up Kelly at center. Clark can play guard or tackle.

After the draft concluded, Grigson said the Colts spent about every last dollar to sign 20 undrafted free agents. He and Pagano are excited about the guys on that list, although the names aren’t expected to be announced until Monday.

“We’re really excited about those guys,” Grigson said. “We got some real quality guys after the draft.

“The money is bone dry now. Twenty-one dollars, that’s what we’ve got left. If someone wants to come for 21, that’s what we said, ‘If you want to come for 21, you can come.’”

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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