The Indianapolis Colts lost to the New England Patriots 45-7 in the AFC Championship game and enter the offseason clearly in need of more pieces to build to reach their ultimate goal of the Super Bowl. They have a number of needs on the team, though some are greater needs than others, and we'll be taking a look at some of those needs over the next week or two. Today, we continue our series by looking at the offensive line - and, again, note that this series is not ranking the needs but rather exploring them one by one, regardless of how big of a need that particular position is.
When it comes to the Indianapolis Colts, there are a lot of questions this offseason. One thing that absolutely isn't in question, however, is that Andrew Luck is the most important player to the Colts. He's their franchise player, their biggest star, and their long-term starter at the games' most important position. As such, one of the biggest priorities for the Colts needs to be protecting Luck, and that's something that they will need to focus on this offseason.
"I think it all starts in the trenches," head coach Chuck Pagano said after the season, when asked where the Colts' offseason improvements need to start. "If you can't dominate the line of scrimmage, you're going to have a long, hard day. I think we just found that out."
General manager Ryan Grigson agreed in his end of season press conference, saying that, "I think the offensive line is obviously a key area."
The Colts once again enter an offseason with a need along the offensive line. The unit showed some improvement in 2014, with left tackle Anthony Castonzo playing terrific football and then rookie guard Jack Mewhort looking solid as well. But elsewhere, it was a struggle for the Colts. Part of this can be attributed to injury - namely with Gosder Cherilus playing awful this season while dealing with injuries - and that's part of the reason why the Colts started eleven different offensive line combinations this season. And part of this can be attributed to the Colts trying to get the best player out on the field, as the team benched both A.Q. Shipley and Jonotthan Harrison at times this season as their starting center, finishing with Khaled Holmes as the starter for the final five games.
We'll look more in-depth at how each lineman did this season in our positional review tomorrow, but it was clear that there were some struggles. Hugh Thornton looked bad, and so did Gosder Cherilus - though it's certainly possible that Cherilus' struggles were due to the lingering injuries. And at center, we're still not really sure what to make of the position. Khaled Holmes showed promise and he's likely entering the offseason as the projected starter for the second season in a row, but there's no guarantee that he's the long-term answer there - which is what the Colts were looking for this season.
It will be interesting to see how the Colts' approach the offensive line this offseason - because we know they have to address it. A number of mock drafts have projected the Colts to take an offensive lineman with their first round pick, and that's certainly a possibility. It's also possible (and maybe likely) that the Colts could add help along the line in free agency, though I wouldn't expect them to make a huge signing along the line.
The line for the Colts played well in the playoffs, with Castonzo, Mewhort, Holmes, Lance Louis, and Joe Reitz starting. Perhaps the most interesting player to watch from that group will be Retiz, who did a very solid job at right tackle in the playoffs. How does he factor into the plans moving forward? We don't know, but it will interesting to keep an eye on, because he showed once again in 2014 that he can be a valuable guy to have around.
And what about Gosder Cherilus? Can he come back healthy and playing at the solid level that he was at in 2013? If so, he'll likely be back in 2015 at right tackle. The biggest question spot along the line appears to be at right guard. Castzonzo will be at left tackle again and it's likely that Mewhort will still be at left guard. My guess is that Khaled Holmes will start at center, while Gosder Cherilus starts at right tackle. But right guard? Hugh Thornton might compete for the spot in training camp, but I wouldn't be surprised whatsoever if the starting player at that position isn't on the roster right now. That's the question spot, as the Colts have to get better on the interior of the line. We still don't know fully what to expect from Holmes, but I don't think the Colts will be quick to give up on him. And the team likely will give Cherilus one more year if healthy.
In other words, let me sum it up by saying this: I wouldn't expect the volume of changes along the offensive line that we've seen in the past. But what will be important is not the quantity but rather the quality, something that has been lacking in some of Grigson's recent offensive line moves. If the Colts could add a quality player at the right guard position, that would help to protect Andrew Luck and pave the way for the running game. Regardless, it's clear that one of the biggest needs for the team this offseason will once again be the offensive line.