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Problem with Colts Center Position? Lack of a Backup Plan

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The problem with the Colts center position was never the plan to start Khaled Holmes, it was the lack of a backup plan if that didn't work out. Now that Holmes is injured, the only good option for the Colts appears to be hoping the injury isn't serious.

Elsa

I remember how Peyton Manning would say that the one thing a quarterback really hates is having to deal with constant pressure in his face.  If the pressure is coming from outside (the tackles), you can deal with it a bit easier than if it's coming from the inside (the center and guards), because when the pressure comes from the inside it means that it's right in your face and harder to get away from.

Certainly there's variations here depending on the style of play, and it makes sense that a pocket passer like Manning would say that.  But it's true of most quarterbacks - that constant pressure in their face is hard to deal with.  For the current Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, that's been his life in his first two seasons in the NFL, and he's done very well despite the pressure.  But with a lot of money to spend, the hope was that the Colts offensive line would finally be improved entering this season.

Last year, it was bad.  The two tackles, Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus, did a good job and didn't cause any worry, but the interior of the line - Hugh Thornton, Samson Satele, and Mike McGlynn - caused plenty of reason for concern.  It was bad.  The team released Satele this offseason and let McGlynn walk in free agency, and Colts fans were hopeful that with around $40 million to spend in free agency that the Colts would invest in some protection for Luck.

Grigson signed two veteran free agents along the offensive line - Lance Louis and Phil Costa.  Louis is coming off of an ACL injury and significant time away from the game, and while he's a solid depth and spot starter option he wasn't going to be counted on to be the outright starter.  Phil Costa retired after only a few weeks with the team.

Grigson drafted two offensive linemen - Jack Mewhort and Ulrick John.  The selection of Mewhort now looks to be huge, as he is the team's starting left guard and a fine player at that, but the pick of John came in the seventh round for a developmental guy who's most likely to end up on the practice squad, if that.  After those two guys, several undrafted free agents were brought in.

Basically, here was Grigson's attempts at improving the offensive line - two veteran signings, one a depth guy and the other a now retired guy, two draft picks, one a good choice and the other a developmental seventh rounder, and a number of undrafted guys.  At a spot that was awful last year and everyone saw as one of the most crucial spots needing improvement this offseason.

While the troubles with the offensive line the past few years hadn't been for a lack of effort on Ryan Grigson's part, that wouldn't seem to be the case this year.  Well, maybe it's not because of a lack of effort but rather a false sense of security on Grigson's part.  Sure, Donald Thomas was coming back from injury and would step in to start at left guard.  I realize that, and of course Grigson couldn't have known Thomas would re-tear his quad and be lost for the year in camp.  But the concern with the injury was real enough that there should have been a backup option - and that's where Jack Mewhort comes in.  Check.  I'm ok with that plan, even though now it seems shaky to start a rookie.

But at center?  You can talk about how you don't need an all-star at the center position (which Grigson has), and that's true, but don't belittle the importance - Colts fans clearly thought Samson Satele was bad enough last year to have a huge impact on the line and the offense, and the Colts agreed to some degree by releasing him.  And also, when you're going to make those claims, it's really best to have strong guards surrounding the center to help him.  The Colts don't - I think Jack Mewhort will turn out to be a good player and I'm hopeful about Hugh Thornton, but at this point neither are established.

It seems very clear on this one point - the Colts' plan all along has been to start Khaled Holmes at center.  The release of Satele, the signing of Costa, the lack of push to sign someone else after Costa's retirement - it all points to the fact that the Colts are confident in Holmes and were all along planning on him being their starter.  And that's a plan that I was fully on board with, and still am.

Holmes was taken in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Colts after a successful collegiate career at USC.  Holmes injured his right ankle early in training camp his rookie season and that forced him to miss extended time, putting him behind in his development.  As a result, Holmes hardly played at all in 2013.  Essentially, it was a redshirt season for the rookie.  He saw just a small handful of snaps all season.  I initially was very concerned that he couldn't get into the lineup despite how bad the line was last year, but I see now how the Colts were determined to sit him and let him develop and learn.  This year, he's been the team's starter on paper for a while now, extending into offseason work and training camp.

I have no problem with starting Khaled Holmes.  But I have criticized the lack of a backup plan all offseason.  It hasn't really been about injury, either, but about the fact that we just don't know what to expect from Holmes.  Grigson and the Colts can be as confident as they want in their press conferences about Holmes, but until we see it on the field we just don't know.  That uncertainty should have led to the Colts investing in a backup plan based purely on the fact that we don't know how good Holmes is going to be - and that wasn't even about a potential injury.  Unfortunately, that's one of the biggest takeaways from the first preseason game, as that has come to the forefront of the discussion.

Khaled Holmes was injured on the first drive of last night's preseason opener, and while the hope is that it isn't serious, we don't know yet.  Holmes actually looked very good on the first drive up to the injury, and it was very encouraging.  But then he went down, and in came undrafted rookie Jonotthan Harrison.  A few plays later, Harrison snapped the ball before Andrew Luck was ready and the ball went over the quarterback's head, forcing the Colts to settle for a field goal.  Later in the game, Harrison again snapped it over his quarterback's head.  He did a decent job blocking (I'll have to go back and watch the film to look specifically at him), but the two bad snaps loom large and they reminded us that the backup plan for the Colts at center is pretty nonexistant.

It might have been Phil Costa, but, well, he's retired.  It might have been Donald Thomas, but he's hurt.  It might have been Jack Mewhort, but I highly doubt the Colts would move the rookie from left guard to center and keep switching him like that.  So the undrafted rookies with the Colts currently (Harrison and FN Lutz) have an opportunity, but I don't think anyone is comfortable with them moving forward as the starter if Holmes is forced to miss a lot of time.

So what are the options for the Colts right now at center?  Well, the only real good one is to hope that Khaled Holmes is ok and won't miss much time.  Even though we haven't seen much from him at all in the NFL, he seems to clearly be the best option for the Colts at this point, and I don't think it's close.  But if he will miss significant time, the team will have to do something.  The Colts stick to the mantra of "next man up," so Harrison and Lutz would certainly get an opportunity, but I don't think they'd end up being the starters (or, if they did, I don't think it'd be a good thing).  The free agent crop of centers currently doesn't look good either.  Perhaps veteran guys like Alex Cook or David Baas could be options, but none of the free agent centers are that good.  Let me put it this way - the Dolphins signed Samson Satele this week when they needed a center.  The Colts aren't going to find a good answer in free agency.  There's always another team's cuts after camp and preseason, too, and that might have to be an option for the Colts, but it's incredibly hard to just sign a lineman and plug him in right away as a starter.  It's huge for the line to have continuity and things like that, so that wouldn't be great either.  Plus, the guy was likely cut for a reason, so you have to know the Colts likely wouldn't find the magic answer there.  So what about a trade?  I don't expect it right now, but if the news comes out that Holmes will miss significant time, Ryan Grigson might take one look at the talent on the team and in free agency and get desperate, thus possibly resulting in a trade.  I wouldn't put it past him, but I also don't think that's the best option either.

Basically, the time has come and gone for Ryan Grigson to get a good backup plan in place in case Khaled Holmes goes down with an injury, and he didn't do so.  Now that Holmes has gone down in the preseason opener, Grigson and Colts Nation are just hoping that it isn't serious.  If it is, the Colts might be in serious trouble.