In anticipation of the Indianapolis Colts reporting for training camp July 26 at Anderson University, ColtsBlitz.com will offer a series of analytical outlooks on position groups.
This installment takes a look at the offensive line.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN ON ROSTER: Tackle Anthony Castonzo (sixth season), tackle/guard Joe Reitz (sixth season), guard Hugh Thornton (fourth season), tackle/guard Jack Mewhort (third season), center Jonotthan Harrison (third season), tackle Denzelle Good (second season), tackle Mitchell Van Dyk (second season), tackle Jeremy Vujnovich (first season), tackle Kevin Graf (first season), guard Kitt O'Brien (first season), center Ryan Kelly (rookie), tackle Joe Haeg (rookie), tackle Le'Raven Clark (rookie), center Austin Blythe (rookie), guard Adam Redmond (rookie), tackle Isiah Cage (rookie).
LAST YEAR: Two opening losses precipitated a switch with Reitz being elevated to start at right tackle, Thornton starting at right guard and Mewhort going back to his original position at left guard from right tackle. But the Colts still were unsettled at center, where Khaled Holmes eventually lost the job again to Harrison, who started nine games. The Colts’ pass protection was an issue as the offensive line allowed 37 sacks. Quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst all suffered injuries. The run game suffered as running back Frank Gore was unable to gain 1,000 yards (finishing with 967). The Colts ranked 28th in total offense, 22nd in passing offense and 29th in rushing offense.
NEW COACH: The Colts’ most important offseason addition might be Joe Philbin as offensive line coach. The former Miami Dolphins head coach is highly respected for his O-line work at Green Bay and in college. If the old adage is true that players can be “coached up” to perform, Philbin is the guy to do it, presuming the talent is there to produce.
NEW ANCHOR: An obvious need was addressed when Kelly, the nation’s top center out of Alabama, was drafted in the first round. Luck has had five centers in his four seasons, so Kelly is expected to bring some stability to the position. More than that, he will be counted upon as a leader up front.
NEW BLOOD: In addition to Kelly, the Colts used draft selections on three other offensive linemen by drafting Clark in the third round, Haeg in the fifth round and Blythe in the seventh round. Six of the offensive linemen in camp are rookies.
OUTLOOK: The left side should be set with Castonzo at left tackle and Mewhort at left guard. Kelly’s addition at center leaves the Colts with two positions to sort out during camp and preseason. Reitz starts out at right tackle but whether Thornton returns to right guard is a big question mark. He spent offseason training activities in rehab after finishing last season on injuries reserve due to shoulder and knee injuries. Thornton is entering a contract year, so it’s an all-important season for his future. The former third-round pick is just 25, so he’s still young and capable of performing at a high level as a 32-game starter, but consistency has been a continual issue. If the Colts were confident he would lock down the job, why use so many draft picks on other young players?
Clark is an intriguing selection in that he has the size at 6-5 and 319 to play tackle but could be considered an option at guard if needed. That said, he’s expected to start out as a backup at tackle. Haeg was reportedly higher on the Colts’ board, so they were thrilled to still select him in the fifth round. He’s another tackle who can play guard and got his share of snaps at the position during offseason workouts. Good, a former seventh-round pick, is another possibility on the right side, either at guard or tackle. The Colts have spoken positively about his progress, a suggestion that he could make the jump from untested rookie to a reliable player in his second season. Good is the Colts’ biggest lineman at 6-5 and 355 pounds, yet has impressed with his athleticism and quick feet.
POSITIVE SPIN: The best-case scenario would be if Thornton proves he can be a consistent right guard because he has more experience than the other options and needs to play like his career depends on it. Presuming that brings out the best in him, the other question is Reitz at right tackle. The Indianapolis native has played in 59 games with 37 starts, so he’s the most experienced option and a seasoned pro. If injuries or performance become an issue for any position, the Colts should have promising talent in Clark, Good and Haeg to solidify any problem that arises. Kelly has supposedly been better during the offseason than the Colts expected, and they had high expectations when choosing him. He becomes the long-term anchor the O-line has needed for years. If Good improves significantly, he’ll push Reitz for playing time or be plugged in at right guard.
NEGATIVE SPIN: Rookies have growing pains and Kelly experiences his share in getting acclimated to the pro game. Reitz isn’t the long-term answer at right tackle and the other unproven options don’t prove to be any better. Thornton continues his up-and-down trend and fails to be a consistent player. If all of this happens, then the Colts are back to where they’ve been for much of the past few years, still struggling on the right side with a need for more continuity to open run lanes and give Luck stronger pass protection.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.