The Colts offensive line looks better than most people are making it seem.
Yes, I said it. And yes, even crazier, I believe it. I like the bookends of the line, with Anthony Castonzo at left tackle and Gosder Cherilus at right tackle. At very least, those are guys that you can plug in and not have to worry about, and they both played well last year and started every game. At guard, Donald Thomas is returning from injury - although it will require patience. He tore both his quad and his biceps in the Dolphins game last year and was out for the season. He is a good player and, when healthy, should be a big boost to the line that they didn't have for most of last season. I feel comfortable with those three players, but the other two offensive line spots are up in the air. We've talked plenty about the center position, and it's looking more and more likely that Khaled Holmes will start there. Ryan Grigson said that they don't need a high-profile center to win, and he's right. But that means that the rest of the line - especially the guards - need to be good. At right guard, it's very likely that Hugh Thornton, who as a rookie last year filled in for Thomas, will start. He was bad last year but the hope is that in his second season and moving to a more natural position at right guard he will improve. He was bad enough last year that Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, in his NFL1000 series this offseason ranked Thornton 69th (out of 70 players ranked) and wrote of him quite simply that, "Thornton shouldn't be a starter in the NFL." Yet it seems like he will be starting at right guard. The center and right guard positions are the two that I have questions about, and while he likely won't be the answer, an interesting player to keep an eye on is Lance Louis.
Immediately, many of you probably are wondering who that is. Early this year the Colts signed him to a reserve/futures contract and, if healthy, he could be a contributor for the Colts. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the seventh round of the 2009 draft out of San Diego State after not being invited to the NFL Combine. He didn't appear in a game until 2010, however, when he played in all 16 games and started 4. In 2011 he started 13 games, playing in 14. He started 11 games in 2012 but his season was cut short after an illegal hit from Jared Allen tore Louis's ACL. He was signed by the Miami Dolphins for the 2013 season but didn't play. He has played in 41 career games, starting 28. There are still question marks about his healthy, but if he truly is healthy then he could be a very underrated but significant signing for the Colts.
I already mentioned Matt Miller's NFL1000 scouting reports when talking about Hugh Thornton and going back to last offseason, with the rankings based on the 2012 season, Miller ranked Louis 39th out of 70 guards. According to Miller, Louis was a good pass blocker who struggled in run blocking, adding that, "Louis looks like a high-level backup or low-level starter." At the same time, however, the only guard on the list who is currently on the Colts roster was Donald Thomas (ranked 19th), who was still on the Patriots for the season ranked.
Now, Louis is more than a year removed from his injury. If he's healthy, he could be a significant contributor. He started at right guard for the Chicago Bears and did a solid job. It just so happens that right guard is a spot where the Colts could use help at. The main problem in Louis's way of starting is Hugh Thornton, who will get every chance to win the starting spot. If he struggles, however, Louis will be there - that is, if Chuck Pagano and the coaching staff makes the move. They've shown a lot of loyalty, which most of the time is a good thing but sometimes can cause them to stick to players who aren't playing well much longer than they should.
I'll be the first one to tell you that I hope Hugh Thornton improves a lot this offseason and emerges as the clear choice to start at right guard. But if he doesn't and if he struggles, the positive thing is the Colts have a guy on their roster right now who has started at the NFL level and played in 41 games. Let's face it - there's a long shot that Louis ends up as the starter, even if he's healthy. The Colts like Hugh Thornton and I don't see them being quick to replace him whatsoever. But Louis will be a valuable player to have and a valuable depth guy who can step in and start if need be. He's a great backup player to have and he's someone that, if healthy, Colts fans shouldn't be sleeping on as a contributor in 2014.