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2014 Colts Training Camp Battles: Offensive Line

Training camp is rapidly approaching, and as we prepare we'll be taking a look at some of the most significant battles that will take place in camp this year for the Colts - some for starting spots, others for backup spots. Today we look at the offensive line.

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It feels like every year along the offensive line for the Colts there are questions to be answered and spots to be won in training camp, whether it be a starting spot or a backup spot.  That's no different this year.

Anthony Castonzo will start at left tackle and Gosder Cherilus at right tackle.  Khaled Holmes will start at center.  Donald Thomas will start at left guard when he is healthy and returns from injury - which hopefully will be in time for the regular season but that we just don't know for sure.  It's more than likely that Hugh Thornton will be the starter at right guard as well.  For the purposes of this article, we're going to assume that those are the case, with an exception that I'll explain below.  But the starting line seems pretty set and, while they're not officially set in stone, they seem pretty safe barring an out-of-this-world performance by someone in preseason and camp.

There is an exception to this, however, and it's found in the fact that we don't know when Donald Thomas will return.  The hope and expectation is that it'll be in time for week one, but if not then the Colts will need someone to step in at left guard and start.  Furthermore, there will be a battle at the bottom of the depth chart for roster spots.  Expect the Colts to keep 9-10 offensive linemen, and we've already established five who will definitely make it.  Rookie Jack Mewhort will make it too, which leaves just 3-4 spots, which are up for grabs in camp and preseason.

It's likely that Lance Louis will make the roster as well.  In fact, he's going to be battling more for a starting spot than for a roster spot if Thomas can't go right away.  He was working with the first team line some in OTAs and he certainly has a chance to take the spot if Thomas isn't ready right away.  Louis started 4 games and played in all 16 for the Chicago Bears in 2010 and started 13 in 2011.  In 2012 he started the first 11 games of the season before tearing his ACL.  He signed with the Dolphins for the 2013 season though he didn't play, and then signed with the Colts early this year.  If he's healthy, he's a guy who has starting experience and who played well when he got the chance.  He's absolutely a guy to keep an eye on.

If Thomas can't go, the guy competing with Louis will likely be Jack Mewhort, the Colts' second round draft pick this year.  Mewhort, the former Ohio State Buckeye, played tackle for most of his collegiate career, though he has experience at both guard and center as well and can play anywhere along the offensive line.  That certainly gives him valuable versatility, and the Cols are going to start him off learning guard.  In OTAs he too saw a bit of time with the first team, though most often he was working with the second team.  He's a guy who will battle and compete for the starting left guard spot in the case that Donald Thomas can't go, however it seems like Lance Louis would be the initial favorite (although, again, I want to make it perfectly clear that the hope and expectation is that Donald Thomas will be ready week one, but it's not a given whatsoever and the Colts must be ready in case he can't go right away).

There will be another battle taking place in training camp along the offensive line, and this battle will not be for a potential starting spot but instead for a roster spot.  The other linemen on the roster currently are Ulrick John, Xavier Nixon, Jack Breckner, Josh Walker, Joe Reitz, Jonotthan Harrison, and FN Lutz.  If you want more info on each of those players, check out my positional preview on the offensive line, as I don't want to just repeat myself in this article.  Instead, I'll skip the introductions on who the players are and jump right to my analysis of the camp battle.

In my positional preview I had the Colts keeping 10 offensive linemen, though some thought that was too many and instead thought the Colts would keep 9.  Not even the number of linemen that the Colts will keep is decided and that too will likely be determined by how things go in camp - by the play of the guys and by how the injury situation is going.  While Ulrick John was the team's seventh round draft pick, he really doesn't seem like anything more than a project practice squad player right now to me, as he seems like a developmental left tackle and not really a guy who will help the Colts this year, so they likely won't be keeping him on the roster.  Jack Breckner is a huge lineman (6-9, 328 pounds) who is an intriguing guy, and he could factor into the competition as well.  Xavier Nixon stands out from among the three tackles here, however, as he played some last year and actually did pretty well in the time he saw.  He played mainly guard and looked good there, so if he were to make the team it would likely be as a backup guard and tackle - and that's exactly what the Colts want, too - versatile linemen as their backups.

Josh Walker is a durable player who is a solid lineman, and that's in contrast to Joe Reitz, who actually looks pretty good when asked to fill in but who struggles staying on the field.  Reitz would make the team as a backup player if he can prove he can stay healthy, and that'll be a decision for the Colts to make on whether to keep him around on the roster.  He can provide good depth, but can he stay healthy?  The answer is probably not, but he might be worth keeping around anyway to produce while he's healthy and then fill the spot with a practice squad guy if he does get hurt.

The team also has two intriguing guys at center behind Khaled Holmes in Jonotthan Harrison and FN Lutz, both of whom were undrafted free agents.  Lutz is a good player, but I think that Harrison could end up being a steal as an undrafted player and I think it wouldn't be a bad idea whatsoever to keep him around, especially with the question marks at center and with the potential that he has.

So who will end up making the roster for the Colts?  Well, if I could tell you, then we wouldn't need to have this article talking about the camp battles!  All I can do is give my best guess, and I think that, like I said, the Colts will keep 10 linemen and that the guys, in addition to the five starters, will be Jack Mewhort, Lance Louis, Xavier Nixon, Joe Reitz, and Jonotthan Harrison.  Ultimately, however, the position will be decided in camp and will be one to keep an eye on.  Who do you like at the position, and how do you think the battle will shake out?  Discuss it in the comments below.