For as good as the Indianapolis Colts figure to be in 2015 and for as high as the expectations are for the team, there are still areas of doubts and question marks. Defensively, the ability to stop the run has received a lot of attention (deservedly so) and is a point of doubt for many people who don't think the team has done enough to improve it. On the offensive side of the ball, the big question has to do with the offensive line. Have the Colts improved it enough to protect franchise quarterback Andrew Luck? The hope is yes, but the reality is that it's very uncertain at this point.
We won't be hitting on every single person along the offensive line in this article but rather looking at each position and how those might play out. For some of the players we don't mention as much, be sure to check out our player previews, which you can find in this group. We're currently going through every player on the roster and looking at them in depth, and we'll be focusing on several offensive linemen in coming days - so, again, be sure to check those out for more on each individual player.
While some of the other positions might feature a battle for a starting spot or questions about the projected starter, none of that is true about the left tackle position for the Colts. Anthony Castonzo has been their best lineman over the past few seasons and in 2014 raised his play to a new level, emerging as a very good left tackle in protection of Andrew Luck. While his strength is in pass protection, however, he also can hold his own against the run. Castonzo is also incredibly durable and reliable, having started 60 games in a row (not missing a game since the middle of his rookie season in 2011) and having played the most snaps of any offensive lineman in the NFL in 2014. In doing all of that, Castonzo allowed just two sacks and nine hits in 726 snaps in pass protection last year (according to Pro Football Focus), playing very well. There's not much question about left tackle - Anthony Castonzo is incredibly durable, very reliable, and the team's best offensive lineman. He's due for a nice contract extension after the 2015 season.
If it weren't for the situation at right tackle, the left guard position would also be a relatively easy one to project. Jack Mewhort started 16 games there last year (including playoffs) and did a good job in his rookie season, forming a good duo on the left side of the line with Castonzo. He played well enough to absolutely earn his spot back again, and there's no doubt that he'll be starting somewhere in 2015 - the only question is where that will be. At right tackle, Gosder Cherilus struggled through injury last year and ended up being placed on injured reserve, and there are legitimate questions about his health. The Colts are in a wait-and-see mode right now, but while Cherilus rehabbed during offseason workouts, Mewhort worked exclusively at right tackle and saw the bulk of the reps there. In other words, the Colts appear to be preparing to move Mewhort to right tackle if Cherilus can't go, which is a real possibility.
If that happens, then it would obviously leave a gap at the left guard position. ESPN's Mike Wells noted that, during offseason workouts (with Mewhort working at right tackle), Hugh Thornton and Lance Louis received the snaps at left guard. Wells also mentioned that, at least during the portions of OTAs open to the media, it appeared as if Louis was seeing more first-team reps. One would think that Thornton would have the slight advantage over Louis based on the fact that he has started for the Colts at guard over the past two seasons, but Louis impressed while at right guard in the playoffs last year and could factor into the plans at the other guard spot this year. I think that, if Mewhort really is moved to right tackle, the Colts should insert Joe Reitz into the competition at left guard with Thornton and Louis, but I doubt that they really will do that. Ultimately, the left guard position is Jack Mewhort's until something changes, and if that change (moving Mewhort to right tackle) happens, then it seems like Thornton and Louis are the leading candidates to take over at the spot.
One of the most intriguing battles of training camp will likely be the center battle, as Khaled Holmes and Jonotthan Harrison will be competing with each other for the right to start in the center of the team's offensive line. Both players started games last year, with Harrison starting ten and Holmes starting five (including playoffs). Both players also received a lot of work during training camp last year, with Holmes entering as the projected starter and then Harrison taking over as the starter once Holmes went down with an injury in the first preseason game. Harrison was underwhelming in his play as a rookie last year, but his physical skills were hard to ignore and, with more work, he should continue to improve. Holmes has a good command of the offense and some of the calls that linemen need to make, and he was certainly an upgrade over Harrison last year. With that said, however, Holmes wasn't overly impressive and still needs work. That is why the center position will be so interesting this year, as both players have the potential for big improvement and it will be key to see how much better they both have gotten. Ultimately, as Jonotthan Harrison pointed out, the battle will likely be decided by consistency, something the Colts were desperately lacking at the position last year. My guess is that Holmes has a slight advantage at this point, but the starting spot really won't be decided until training camp gets underway.
It is very possible (and, in fact, very likely) that the only player to open the season as a starter for the Colts along the offensive line that wasn't on the team last year will be Todd Herremans. The 32-year old lineman spent the first ten seasons of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he played in 127 games and started 124, playing all over the offensive line. When he was cut by the Eagles earlier this offseason, it was no surprise to see the Colts sign him, given Ryan Grigson's Philly connections and the Colts' need for offensive line help. While Herremans can play multiple spots along the line, he is the clear favorite to start at right guard for the Colts this year. He's a cheap, short-term investment who will give them an upgrade over Hugh Thornton and Lance Louis from a year ago and who will likely give the Colts solid play. There are some questions about durability, but while on the field, the Colts should have a solid right guard protecting Andrew Luck and blocking for the run game.
In many ways, the right tackle position is the piece to the puzzle that we don't have right now, and the piece that affects other pieces as well. As we already mentioned when talking about the left guard position, there are concerns about Gosder Cherilus' health. So much so that the Colts were actively working on getting Jack Mewhort acclimated to playing right tackle during offseason workouts so that Mewhort could move there if Cherilus can't go. And either way, with Cherilus' contract cap hit escalating to nearly $10 million in 2016 (and with the Colts able to save $4.1 million by cutting him, per Spotrac), it would appear as if this is the right tackle's last year with the Colts anyway, leaving them with a need for a right tackle of the future. If Cherilus could come back healthy in 2015, however, he should be a solid player. He did a good job in 2013 at the position, but in 2014 he struggled through injuries - and that led to the poor play that we saw from him for much of the season. If Cherilus can come back healthy, he could likely be a good player for the Colts, but there are serious questions about whether that will happen.
If not, it seems like the spot is Jack Mewhort's to lose. The Indianapolis Star's Stephen Holder reported earlier in the offseason that Mewhort was working "exclusively" at right tackle during the open portion of OTAs and not at all at left guard, and indeed the majority of the first-team reps at the position during OTAs went to Mewhort. Joe Reitz also received reps as well, and after he played well at the position for the three playoff games, that makes sense. But for as well as Reitz has played when given a chance, Jack Mewhort seems like the sure bet to be moved to right tackle if Cherilus can't go, and he could end up being the team's long-term right tackle as well.
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' roster heading into camp, check out Josh Wilson's other position previews: