In recent years, the Colts' offensive line has not been good.
Quarterback Andrew Luck took a lot of hits in his first three years in the league, and it looked like those hits finally added up when Luck injured his shoulder earlier this season, an injury that caused him to miss two games. After some early struggles by the unit this year, however, something rather surprising has happened: the offensive line has played better. Rob Chudzinski, who recently took over as offensive coordinator after Pep Hamilton was fired, has noticed it as well.
"Those guys have shown improvement," Chudzinski said, according to Colts.com's Kevin Bowen. "I know they've shown improvement. I challenge them to be one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. They need to feel that and believe that to achieve that."
The Colts worked with the same first-team offensive line all throughout training camp and preseason, emphasizing continuity. At left tackle was Anthony Castonzo, at left guard was Lance Louis, at center was Khaled Holmes, at right guard was Todd Herremans, and at right tackle was Jack Mewhort. That unit was the starting one throughout the first two weeks of the season for the Colts, but they struggled.
Then, the Colts decided to make massive changes to the starting lineup - the likes of which are rare in the NFL mid-season, especially after just two weeks. Jack Mewhort, who had taken over at right tackle for Gosder Cherilus and worked there all offseason, moved back inside to left guard. Todd Herremans, who had been the Colts' only notable addition along the line this offseason, was benched. Hugh Thornton, who had missed much of training camp with an injury but who was behind Louis anyway, entered the lineup for Herremans at right guard. Lastly, the ever-reliable Joe Reitz, who was re-signed this past offseason and who started at right tackle to end the 2014 season, jumped back into the starting lineup at right tackle.
The combination of Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, Khaled Holmes, Hugh Thornton, and Joe Reitz took a little while to get going, but they have improved significantly and the line looks much better than it did earlier in the year or for much of the past three years. Since making the change, the Colts are 4-3 and have rushed for more than 100 yards in five of seven games. Is that all on the offensive line? No, but it's a number that helps show the improvement that has been made.
"The run game's improved (and) the protections have improved as the season's gone on," Chudzinski told Bowen. "That's something that we need to continue to get better. It's not there, but we will."
Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert noted that the fact that this new unit is now developing continuity with each other will help, and that while there has been improvement the Colts aren't where they want to be yet. "There are obviously some things that we have to clean up," Gilbert said. "We've got to do a better job of protecting (the quarterback), but I think we are steadily making progress."
It's easy to blame the Colts' struggles on the offensive line, but for much of the season, that hasn't been the problem. They're not the league's best unit, but they're average - and the Colts can take average after several years of awful. The changes made after week two were drastic, but they have helped to solidify the offensive line, which has shown improvement as the season has gone on. Hopefully, that continues moving forward.