On Wednesday, reports began circulating that perhaps the Colts were going to bench center A.Q. Shipley and start Jonotthan Harrison instead. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano dismissed those rumors on Wednesday by saying that he didn't know where they came from and to not believe everything you read, but to wait until Sunday to see. It was very much a non-answer from a man who a week before had definitively named Shipley as his starting center. In addition, Pagano was completely forthright about the injury status of lineman Jack Mewhort. When asked about the center position, however, Pagano was noncommittal and gave a non-answer.
Then on Thursday the reports began circulating even more, as Harrison was taking reps as the first team center in practice and Shipley was spending time at both center and guard. When Shipley talked with the media, he seemed like a guy who wasn't sure he was starting either. He said he hadn't been told either way yet, but that he's preparing as a starter and he'll be ready regardless of his role.
Of course, then, today Chuck Pagano was going to be asked about the center position. Yet again, he was noncommittal. This is how it went today in his press conference (the questions are in bold and then his answers follow):
Are you staying with A.Q. Shipley at center and do you think it benefited him going against those guys every day in practice last year in Baltimore?
"It's always great to have a guy on your team that has been with the team you're playing. There's a lot of things that we get from tape and there's a lot of things you can't get from tape. Obviously having a guy on your squad that knows those guys can give you some of the intangibles that you can't get off film, it's a plus for us."
Is A.Q. Shipley staying at center this week?
"Yeah, he's a center on our team, yeah."
The starting center?
"He's a center on our team. We have a lot of centers on our team. You guys know that."
Chuck, just so I don't misunderstand, we're going to have to wait until Sunday to see who your starting center is, right?
"I think, yeah. We've got a bunch of guys in that room that are more than capable of playing a bunch of spots on that offensive. We talk about position flexibility all the time. Everybody has got ample reps at all the spots. Not only center, guard and tackle. Our guys do a great job of making sure, whether we have seven up, eight up, it doesn't matter. Every man is ready to go."
It has been impossible to get any sort of answer out of Pagano this week on who is starting at center, and other reports and what was seen in practice seem to suggest that there might be a change coming. Yet Pagano has remained noncommittal and will not say who will start. I keep contrasting it to last week, when Pagano avoided this sort of "distraction" by naming Shipley the starting center outright on Wednesday. To me, the fact that he hasn't yet done so this week very much indicates that he's at least seriously considering a change if he hasn't already made it.
If I had to make an educated guess, I think that Jonotthan Harrison will be starting at center on Sunday instead of A.Q. Shipley. Let's be sure to note that nothing is official yet, but the sense I get is that a change is coming.
If that really does happen, the question must be asked, "why?" And that's a question I really don't have an answer for. Many have suggested and even reported that it might have something to do with the matchup against the Ravens, but that just seems like an excuse, not a reason. I get that line of thinking, but you don't just bench your center for that reason alone unless you were already considering the move. So why would you bench A.Q. Shipley? He has played well this season in the first four games and has played every single one of the 307 offensive snaps for the Colts so far. Both Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck have talked extensively about the importance of continuity along the offensive line. While injuries have ruined that the past two weeks a bit, that doesn't mean that keeping Shipley in there would have no effect on the continuity.
Harrison played well in the preseason. But that's much different than thrusting the undrafted rookie into starting a regular season game against the Baltimore Ravens. Much different. I love Harrison's potential, but that doesn't mean they have to start him yet. And what happened to Khaled Holmes? I mean, if they're going to make a change, why not put Holmes in there? I'm not convinced on Khaled Holmes at all yet, as we still haven't gotten to see him really play. So I'm not about to sit here and clamor for him to replace Shipley because, well, Shipley has been good and Holmes is a question mark. But if the team is going to bench Shipley anyway, why would it be for Harrison and not Holmes? On this point, I'm not questioning as much as I'm interested in hearing the reasoning.
But in benching A.Q. Shipley (if that move were to happen)? That's a move I really would question. I find it hard to justify not putting him out there as the starting center when he's healthy, considering how well he has played and the fact that he has been out there for every snap.
Ultimately, this might be a moot point and Shipley might end up starting anyway, so let's hold off bashing people until we know for sure. But one thing is certain: the way Chuck Pagano has handled this has been very strange, and it's another reason why it seems like a change might be coming. We don't know for sure, but I'd guess Jonotthan Harrison will be the starting center for the Colts on Sunday. But if you do want to know for sure? As Chuck Pagano has said, just wait until Sunday.