The story of the Colts' center position in 2014 is one that has been told quite a bit. Unproven Khaled Holmes was the team's projected starter all offseason long, but he was injured on the first drive of preseason. Undrafted rookie Jonotthan Harrison stepped in and played well in preseason, but a week before the season began the Colts claimed A.Q. Shipley off of waivers from the Ravens. Shipley had originally played with the Colts in 2012 and done well, been traded away to the Ravens, and then released as part of the final roster cuts in 2014. The Colts signed him and he stepped in right away to start the first four games of the season, giving the Colts good, consistent play up front. After the fourth game, however, the Colts inexplicably benched Shipley in favor of Harrison, who struggled for much of the next ten games - showing promise, certainly, but often times being a liability along the line. The team finally made the move to Khaled Holmes in week sixteen, and Holmes then started the final two regular season games and the three playoff games, playing better than Harrison but not as well as Shipley.
This offseason, the Colts' center competition is down to two players, Jonotthan Harrison and Khaled Holmes, as they let A.Q. Shipley walk in free agency without so much as giving him a restricted free agent tender. Shipley signed with the Arizona Cardinals and Bruce Arians, the coach who was with the Steelers when they drafted Shipley, with the Colts when Shipley played in 2012, and who called Shipley five minutes into the free agency period to express his interest in the center. Now, A.Q. Shipley is the leading candidate to win the Cardinals' starting center job in 2015 and he's enjoying football again.
That's what he told ESPN's Josh Weinfuss recently, as he mentioned that last year with the Colts was a very rough one for him. "Last year was trying for me," Shipley told Weinfuss as he opened up on his time with the Colts. "I mean, it really was."
Shipley added that Colts management told him that he was playing well but that he was never given "a specific reason" why he was benched - something that many fans and media have wondered as well. "It was hard to keep my mouth shut," he said. "That's the biggest thing. I knew at the end of the day I didn't want to be a cancer. I did not want to be a cancer to the team. We had a great team. We had a great season going, so I didn't want to be that. I just kinda had to go to work. I got a pretty fun personality. I couldn't. I just ... I was there. I went to work. I did what I had to do. I did my football stuff. I did my stuff and I went home. But I couldn't be 100 percent me because it was so hard."
When you put yourself in Shipley's situation, it's easy to understand why it was so tough. When you play as well as Shipley did in 2014, you have to feel good about it. He was never going to be one of the most dominant centers, but he was doing everything the Colts had asked him to do and then some, providing a stabilizing force along the offensive line. Pro Football Focus' grades don't tell the whole story, but Shipley finished as the 13th-highest graded center in the league last year - not great, but solid. By comparison, Khaled Holmes was 44th and Jonotthan Harrison was 64th. After week four, however, he was benched for no apparent reason other than that the team wanted to try out some younger players, leading to question marks for the remainder of the season at the center position. It's easy to understand why it was hard for him.
For A.Q. Shipley, apparently just being "solid" at your position wasn't enough for the Colts, but it's exactly what Bruce Arians was looking for. "He's as solid as you get every day," Arians said, per Weinfuss. "He comes to work and you know what you're going to get out of him every single day."
It's unfortunate that things happened the way they did in Indianapolis in 2014, but it's good to hear that Shipley is enjoying football again now while playing for Bruce Arians in Arizona. "One hundred percent," Shipley told Weinfussabout being back to his old self. "I feel good. It's fun coming to work every day again."