Over the next few weeks, we will be looking position by position at the current talent on the Indianapolis Colts' roster and previewing the battles that may take place in training camp. Today we look at the offensive line.
Even the most durable quarterbacks cannot last behind a bad offensive line, and even the best running backs cannot consistently produce if the line cannot run block. Colts fans have seen plentyof both. In 2010, Peyton Manning was injured after being hit repeatedly (it happened week one against Houston and it continued throughout the year). The real issue with the Colts run game in recent years has been, in my opinion, largely an offensive line problem.
The reason was due to the Colts building their offensive line all around pass blocking, which was not an issue until the line stopped doing just that - protecting Peyton Manning. Once that happened, the line became one of the biggest problems on the roster.
After Ryan Grigson took over as general manager this offseason, he brought in new lineman who are more solid in run blocking than the previous group.
And truthfully, the Colts offensive line actually has a chance to be a strong spot in 2012.
Grigson brought in former Eagles Mike McGlynn and Winston Justice, and signed center Samson Satele as a free agent from Oakland. He also added four rookies on the offensive line, including seventh round pick Justin Anderson.
The Colts' starting line in 2012 looks to be Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Ben Ijalana at left guard, Samson Satele at center, Mike McGlynn at right guard, and Winston Justice at right tackle. That starting line is certainly an upgrade from Castonzo, Joe Reitz, Jeff Saturday, Mike Pollak, and Jeff Linkenbach.
In fact, every offensive line position was upgraded this offseason. We will take a look at each specifically, starting with the guy who will be assigned to protect Andrew Luck's blind side.
Anthony Castonzo is entrenched at this position. In his rookie season last year, the first round pick started 12 games for Indy and showed promise. While not great, he had a solid rookie campaign and is a guy I think could take massive steps forward in 2012. There is really no battle for this position, as Castonzo will likely be the starting left tackle for years to come. However, if he suffers an injury as he did last season, the Colts need to have someone ready to fill in. Jeff Linkenbach may be the one to fill in, but if George Foster makes the roster he could as well.
Castonzo projects to be the only returning starter on the line and may very well turn out to be the best pass blocker. This position is of little concern as long as Castonzo can stay healthy.
Of the five offensive line spots, this one is the most undecided. It is one of the most undecided on the entire team as well. It will either be Joe Reitz or Ben Ijalana, but which one of the two is anything but certain. Ijalana was the Colts' second round draft pick last year, but was lost for the season due to injury before we really got a good look at him. Reitz appeared in 11 games last season, starting 9. He provided decent play, but his injury issues are certainly a concern [For an in depth look at Joe Reitz, check out Andrew Mishler's article on the guard here]. I think that it will be Ijalana getting the start at left guard, but it is in no way decided. Regardless of who starts, the other will certainly provide solid depth.
Seth Olsen is another option at the position, but very likely as nothing more than a backup. Olsen was actually playing as the first team left guard in minicamp, but it is worth noting that both Ben Ijalana and Joe Reitz were injured.
For a decade the center position on the Colts was manned by Jeff Saturday. A fan favorite and a borderline hall of famer, Saturday signed with the Green Bay Packers this offseason. It was a sad time for many fans, but the Colts actually upgraded at the position.
No, Samson Satele will not be a hall of famer and no, Satele is not Jeff Saturday. But he is a 27 year old entering his prime, while Saturday is 36 years old and on the decline. Saturday is still a good player, but going with Samson Satele over the fan favorite was a good move by Ryan Grigson.
Satele was signed on March 21, 2012 as a free agent from Oakland. He is entering his sixth year in the NFL and has started 74 games while appearing in 78. He is actually a much better center than I initially thought, which is always great to find out while researching. In fact, Pro Football Focus even named Satele one of their "Secret Superstars". He also earned two different spots on their 2011 best single game performances by a center. Prior to free agency, he was included on their list of the top 75 free agents, coming in at number 67. From what I have read, Satele is a player with great talent and potential, but is inconsistent. He is one of the guys who I will have a close eye on in the preseason.
Backing up Satele will likely be either A.Q. Shipley or Mike McGlynn, but if Satele gets injured, McGlynn would probably take over the center duties. As tough as it is to admit, I actually think that Samson Satele is a better option for the Colts going forward than Jeff Saturday would have been.
Mike McGlynn was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL draft. He has seen most of his time at center, where he started in 2010 due to an injury to Jamaal Jackson. He was released by the Eagles during final roster cuts in 2011 and was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals. He started four games last year for the Bengals. On March 15, 2012, McGlynn signed with the Colts.
Just seven days later, the Colts'starting right guard in 2011 signed with the Carolina Panthers as a free agent, to the rejoicing of Colts fans. Mike Pollak was not starter material. The only reason Pollak was on the roster and starting was possibly because Bill Polian did not want to admit that drafting him was a mistake. McGlynn, while not a great player either, is clearly an upgrade over Pollak nonetheless.
The biggest thing that Mike McGlynn will bring to the Colts is his leadership. While Jeff Saturday's position on the offensive line was filled by Samson Satele, his leadership position reportedly is being filled by McGlynn. And that influence probably all but secures his spot on the starting line week one in Chicago.
Another former Eagle that Ryan Grigson brought in is the new right tackle of the Colts, Winston Justice. The Colts basically acquired Justice and swapped sixthround picks with the Eagles in last spring's draft (the Colts selected LaVon Brazil with the pick). In essence, the Colts got Winston Justice for free.
Justice is an upgrade over Jeff Linkenbach, but keeping Linkenbach around will provide excellent depth for the line. He started 16 games last year at right tackle, so he could fill in if needed. He will be a valuable depth player, and while the hope is that the line can stay healthy, it feels better having a guy with experience on the bench.
As I said earlier, in my opinion each offensive line position will be an improvement from last year. The only questionable one is at center, and if not better this year the move is certainly better in the long run. Anthony Castonzo will be improved from last year, thus technically upgrading the position.
Castonzo, Ben Ijalana, Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn, and Winston Justice look to be the starting line, with Joe Reitz, Jeff Linkenbach, Seth Olsen, and Justin Anderson as the backup linemen.
This line does have a chance to be good. Obviously, chemistry is huge for a unit such as the offensive line, and how quickly these guys adjust to playing together could determine how the season goes not only for the line, but for Andrew Luck, the running game, and the Colts in general.
PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Castonzo (Tackle), Ben Ijalana (Guard), Samson Satele (Center), Mike McGlynn (Guard), Winston Justice (Tackle)
BATTLING FOR STARTING SPOT: Joe Reitz (Guard)
BATTLING FOR A ROSTER SPOT: Justin Anderson (Guard), Steven Baker (Tackle), George Foster (Tackle), Jason Foster (Guard), Hayworth Hicks(Guard), Jeff Linkenbach (Tackle), Seth Olsen (Guard), A.Q. Shipley (Center), Zane Taylor (Center), Mike Tepper (Tackle)