ANDERSON, Ind. — When he met with reporters for the first time during offseason training activities in March, new Indianapolis Colts offensive line coach Joe Philbin admitted he had some rust.
It’s been a decade since he last coached an offensive line in Green Bay. But when Philbin, 55, shakes off that rust and gets into a routine with his new team, he might prove to be the Colts’ most important offseason addition.
What’s understood is the Colts must protect quarterback Andrew Luck, who missed nine games due to injuries last season. And the Colts used half of their eight draft picks on offensive linemen.
That’s why Philbin’s job could be the key to 2016. The former Miami Dolphins head coach sounded like an assistant ready to get to work when he arrived Tuesday for training camp at Anderson University.
“It felt good to be in the room. It felt good to be teaching again,” he said. “Certainly there’s a little bit of rust on the body, but that’s what training camp is for, for the players and the coaches.
“So far, so good but I’ve got to get better just like the players.”
The Colts appear set at three positions with Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Jack Mewhort at left guard and rookie first-round draft choice Ryan Kelly at center. Joe Reitz is starting at right tackle while Hugh Thornton and Jonotthan Harrison are alternating snaps at right guard.
Philbin’s message to the players was simple.
“This is a great opportunity we all have,” he said. “The Indianapolis Colts is a tremendous organization, it’s got great tradition, great history of success. We’re all fortunate to be here. I think all of us players and coaches have worked extremely hard to be in the National Football League, so we want to take advantage of this opportunity.
“When we show up for work every day, I expect to get their best effort and they can expect to get the same from me.”
Philbin has ascended through the NFL ranks to offensive coordinator and then Miami’s head coach from 2012 through four games of 2015. While the Dolphins never finished better than 8-8, he had an overall record of 24-28.
His return meant coaching the offensive line for either the Colts or New York Giants. He chose the Colts.
“I have great respect for (head) coach Chuck Pagano and what he’s done here, what he stands for,” Philbin said. “I thought the organization was really committed to winning a championship here. They have a great group of men. I thought the staff that he was putting together was excellent and it just fit. I lived in the Midwest for 13 years out of the last 17 and loved every minute of it, so this is where I wanted to be.”
His job goes beyond just ensuring Luck is protected. The Colts haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher in a season since Joseph Addai in 2007. And they haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in 56 consecutive games including the playoffs, an obvious trend that dates back to 2012.
The Colts will take long looks at young players during preseason, most notably third-round pick Le'Raven Clark at tackle, fifth-round pick Joe Haeg at tackle or guard and seventh-round selection Austin Blythe at center.
But what everyone is wondering is will the Colts be able to better protect Luck, who just signed a new six-year, $140 million contract to become the NFL’s highest-paid player.
“It starts with the protection and it starts with we’re kind of built as a one-on-one pass protection, one man blocking one man, and at the end of the day you have to be able to do that to play in the National Football League,” Philbin said.
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