If you remember back to the offseason, myself and several others expressed concerns about the Colts' center position. Namely, that the only option they had was Khaled Holmes. Not that I was opposed to the team starting him, but the reality is that we just didn't know what to expect from him.
Of course, a lot has changed since then. The Colts signed undrafted free agent center Jonotthan Harrison out of Florida, and he competed for a roster spot in training camp. On the first drive of the preseason, Holmes went down with an ankle injury, and Harrison then stepped in as the first team center for the remainder of the preseason. A week before the regular season began, the Colts claimed A.Q. Shipley off of waivers from the Ravens, bringing back a player who was on the team in 2012 - the season before they drafted Holmes in the fourth round. Shipley started the first four games of the season and played very well, but then the Colts decided to contemplate making a move at center - which they did, benching Shipley and starting Harrison. Since then, the undrafted rookie has started the past four games and has done a solid job, showing promise for the future. All throughout the season, one thing about the center position has remained constant: even though he has been healthy for quite a while now, Khaled Holmes hasn't had a role in this Colts' offense, instead being inactive for most of the games.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson spoke with the media today in a midseason update press conference and, as you could have guessed, he was asked about the center position - specifically about what factored into the decision to make the change to start Harrison over Shipley.
"Well, Jonotthan's still being evaluated like everybody else but we like the direction he's headed," Grigson said. "We have a little bit different vantage point, little different perch than everyone else. We're with these guys 24/7. We watch them at practice. We look at every little thing they do. I get information from every facet of this operation in this building on all those guys. I think we're in a good situation because we have three quality guys. We have quality depth now in a spot where everyone thought the sky was falling. I feel really good about the center position right now. I think Jonotthan's doing a heck of a job. He's an undrafted rookie snapping to Andrew Luck. I think he's doing well."
Grigson was asked a follow-up question to clarify whether the decision to start Harrison was more about him than it was about Shipley. "I think it's a culmination of things," Grigson said. "You look at how it even transpired. Khaled (Holmes) is doing a great job, gets hurt. He has nine snaps to go off of in terms of his evaluation. You have practice but the games are obviously the bulk of what you go off of. If he gets another opportunity, I'm sure he'll do well. But he's got to stay out of the training room. I've told him that. That's just the bottom line. A.Q. (Shipley) came in and played quality snaps for us. We're upfront with these guys. Ultimately, it's up to them. Like I said, the performance level, we're always trying to get to a championship level, a winning level. That's what we're aspiring to. It's not because we're heartless or cold, it's just the expectation. If you're going to be a part of the train, you've got to hop on and keep playing that way."
First off, I find it odd how Grigson can say that "it's up to them" and that they're aspiring to get to a winning level, because A.Q. Shipley did a very good job of starting when he was called upon. Of course, let's not negate the fact that Harrison played well when he was called upon in preseason as well, however.
Secondly, I find it interesting that in his response to the first question Grigson used the reason that, "we watch them at practice" to justify why they know better than us then to only go on to say that it's mainly about the game film and not the practice tape that they really learn from. I get that they had much more game on Harrison than on Holmes, but it still seems a bit contradictory to me when reading Grigson's comments one after another.
Thirdly, Grigson is flexing his muscles in saying that they have a better vantage point than we do because they're around the players all of the time. And he's absolutely right. But to me, he's lost all right to the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the center position. Do you recall his mini-rant this past May about this very same subject? If you don't, let me remind you of what Grigson said when asked why fans should feel confident in Holmes as the starting center.
"Because we've done our homework. Because we're the ones that have studied. We're the ones that have watched all the film and not just 10 YouTube clips. We went into the school, had multiple scouts watch him, had our o-line coach work him out. Thirty-seven starts at USC, it's not like it's ‘Whatsa Matta U'. It's a pretty good program. The thing is too just to help you understand, we're going to put the best players possible and we go to every length, every length, we go to other continents. We're trying our best. If you look at other teams around the league, very rarely do you have just a true center waiting in the wings to play for you. It's usually a guy that's a guard that can snap to get you out of a game. Rarely do you have a surefire frontline starter sitting there waiting in the wings for you. We took Khaled in the fourth round because we believed that eventually he could be the guy. Even in the 12 snaps he played, they were 12 pretty good snaps. We saw him for a whole year practice, do one-on-ones. Now he's going to be in the mix. When you're redshirt, you have a different mindset. Now you can see the competitive juices. When you see there's two guys in front of you, it's a different mindset. Now he's in the mix and it's good."
Holmes has played one drive in four preseason and eight regular season games combined this year after hardly playing at all last year either. Even now with him completely healthy, he's inactive for most games. Credit to Ryan Grigson for making the moves that he thinks is best for the team and not just going with the guy he has invested the most in - I think that's a great quality for a general manager to have and one that I think Grigson has developed more this year than in the past few.
With all of that said, let me say this: I think the Colts made the right move in starting Jonotthan Harrison. This is contrary to what I said at the time they benched Shipley, but Harrison has shown the potential the Colts and several of us hoped that he had. There's hope that he can become the center of the future. That's worth taking a shot on right now. And I don't think Harrison has played bad at all. He's had trouble with snaps, which is obviously a huge concern, but we haven't seen it in the past two weeks and hopefully it's something the Colts have worked out with him, and with the way he has been blocking I think it shows that the right decision was made in going to Harrison - and I'll admit that as someone who criticized the move at the time.
Grigson is right that the center position has worked out better than anyone would have thought entering the season. Shipley has played well and so has Harrison. And the Colts have depth at a position that in the offseason they really didn't have a great starting option.