"They were all in competition before Donald (Thomas) went down - Donald, Jack (Mewhort), Hugh (Thorton) was playing extremely well at the right guard position for the time being, you could actually say that he is the number one guy there but Lance (Louis) is certainly in the mix." That was Colts head coach Chuck Pagano yesterday, talking about the offensive line competition.
Donald Thomas was the starting left guard for this team, and there wasn't a whole lot of concern with him playing there. But then in practice Wednesday, Thomas re-tore his quad and will miss the entire 2014 season. Enter rookie Jack Mewhort. The team's second round draft pick this year can play anywhere along the line, but the Colts were working him at guard. Most likely he would be just a backup - but once Donald Thomas went down, it became clear that was no longer an option. Despite the fact that he has yet to play an NFL game, the rookie Jack Mewhort is currently projected to be the starting left guard. "Doesn't matter what position, anytime you have to play with young guys, particularly rookies, you are concerned," Pagano said yesterday, though he also acknowledged that the Colts started several rookies in 2012 and came out alright.
While I loved Pagano's honesty about how there is some concern there, it was his comments about the competition that caught my attention most. He was very non-committal on Mewhort as a starter, and while he said that they're going to be starting a second year right guard and a second year (basically first year) center, when he talked about the left guard he said they would possibly start a rookie - "we'll see how things shake out if that's the way it plays out." When asked if Lance Louis has a chance to push Mewhort for that starting job, Pagano said "absolutely," and I mentioned earlier how Pagano said there are guys competing for the spot.
I wrote this offseason about how fans shouldn't rule out Lance Louis. I thought he could make a push for the job way back then if Thomas wasn't able to start the season. This was before the draft, but even after the Colts took Mewhort, I thought that there was a chance Louis would beat out Mewhort. You see, I was never quite sure whether Thomas would be back in time for week one or not, so I thought there was a possibility that either Louis or Mewhort would have to fill in for a game or two. Thomas then came back to start camp, so it all moved to a discussion about depth - for one week. Then, Thomas went down, and no longer was one of those guys going to have to fill in for a game or two, but instead for an entire season. And my opinion on this matter changed. I think the Colts should forget about the competition. Erase it. Make it non-existant. While it seems backwards-type thinking to say that for the Colts it's better to not have competition, here's what I'm saying - in this situation, it's much more important for the Colts to develop continuity on the offensive line than competition.
Jack Mewhort is a good offensive lineman. There will be rookie struggles, absolutely, and you never like starting a rookie lineman, but he's a much better long-term option than Lance Louis. Louis is a good depth guy and spot-starter, but Mewhort is the better option long-term. Mewhort is currently the team's number one left guard. But it's clear he's not their only option at left guard, as last night Lance Louis saw time with the first team unit - albeit much less time than Mewhort.
Here's the thing about an offensive line - they're like their own separate unit on the offense. Just like we talk about how it's important for a quarterback and receiver to build continuity and timing, it's important for the offensive line to do so as well. Perhaps the most damaging thing for the Colts line the past few years hasn't even been the bad players but rather the constant shuffling. Linemen are going in and out of the lineup, and the Colts used numerous different offensive line combinations last year. That is incredibly damaging for an offensive line. The best lines play together. They develop that continuity. They develop that rapport playing together. They knew each players strengths and weaknesses, they know what to expect, they know what they need to do. Continuity is HUGE for an offensive line.
Now consider the Colts situation this year. They're likely going to start a rookie at left guard. They're going to start a second year guy at center who has hardly played at all. They're going to start a second year guy at right guard who was terrible last year. The two tackles are good and reliable, but the interior is a huge question mark. Maybe the biggest way for the Colts to try and mask some of those players' weaknesses and struggles is by developing consistency and continuity. If this line can get extensive time playing together and if they can stay together, there is absolutely no way that it will be as bad as the line last year. No way.
Instead, however, Pagano and the Colts want competition. They want the best player out there. That makes perfect sense. But the best option they have is Jack Mewhort. And it'll likely be him winning the competition and starting. The Colts know this too. Mewhort is their best option, and he'll likely win the competition unless the Colts just don't want to put a rookie out there. Long-term (for the whole season), the best option is clearly Mewhort. And I'm confident he'll end up starting, too.
But the Colts want to make sure they have the right guy, and normally I'd be happy with that. But in this situation, when it's a discussion between Lance Louis and Jack Mewhort, neither are going to step in and be the savior of the line. Neither are going to make a huge difference. Especially for Mewhort as a rookie, the best thing the Colts could do is put him in there as the starter and let him work. And work. And work. Give him the reps with the first team unit in camp. Give him the reps with the first team unit in preseason. And don't shuffle it up. Let the starting offensive line work together. And work. And work.
Injuries cause teams to have to adapt. Luckily, the Colts have more time to do that now with all four preseason games still ahead of them. The best thing they could do right now is the thing that initially makes no sense - forget about the competition. But with the situation the Colts are in, continuity is more important than competition, and the Colts would be much better suited to just name Mewhort as the starting left guard, give him all the reps there, allow the starting line to build continuity - and hope no one else gets hurt.