On the second play of the game for the Indianapolis Colts' offense during Saturday night's preseason game against the Bears, quarterback Andrew Luck didn't stand much of a chance. Bears pass rusher Pernell McPhee started outside and then made a simple move to beat Jack Mewhort inside to quickly get to and bring down Luck.
Sure, perhaps Mewhort was supposed to have help inside - after all, Todd Herremans tried to move over and block McPhee but was too late. But regardless, Mewhort was beat by his man, and the result was a sack on his quarterback. And he knows they can't have that.
"Our emphasis has been on starting fast and when I go out there and do something like that . . . you can't start fast when your guy's on top of the quarterback,'' Mewhort said after the game, according to FOX59's Mike Chappell.
It wasn't just that play, however. On the very next snap, Mewhort again allowed his man to beat him, this time on an outside rush, and again Luck was under heavy pressure because of his right tackle. The performance of the entire first team offensive line on Saturday has concerned many, and perhaps the worst of the group was Mewhort, who is going through some growing pains as he adjusts to life on the outside of the offensive line in the NFL.
"There's going to be growing pains, with anybody," head coach Chuck Pagano noted after Saturday night's loss. "You know he's a second-year player. We lose sight of the fact that he's a second-year player. There's going to be growing pains and we need to find out what we can do to accentuate our strengths."
Pagano also noted that McPhee is a good pass rusher and was paid quite a bit of money in free agency, so it wasn't the easiest test for the right tackle. At the same time, Pagano was confident that there will be continued improvement. "He'll get better," Pagano said of Mewhort. "He's going to keep working. He's a grown man. He'll get better."
Mewhort is indeed entering just his second year in the NFL and he's at a different spot now, so there is plenty of reason to think that there will be continued improvement from him. It's also expected that there will be some rough patches, and hopefully he can get them out of the way early, like in preseason games.
But then there's also this concern: we've yet to see him produce at the NFL level at the right tackle position with any consistency. Granted, he did a pretty good job in the preseason opener against the Eagles, but he only played 20 snaps - not enough to really judge him on. And then this week, he only played 28 snaps, which again isn't a huge sample size - but it raised concerns with his play. It's a completely different thing to be outside versus speed rushers than inside, and that's what we're waiting to see how Mewhort handles. Can he play well when he's dealing with a speed rusher in space on the outside? He got beat in such a situation last night.
"They're monsters and I have to be ready to go against guys like that every week,'' Mewhort said. "Obviously I didn't hold up the way I wanted to. I settled in better later, but it's crippling when you go out there as a tackle and give up a bad sack like that on the second play of the game.''
The hope is that Jack Mewhort will continue to settle in and improve, providing the Colts with solid play at the right tackle position. And, to be honest, there's reason to think that it could happen. But we've yet to really see enough on the field so far to indicate that, and on Saturday night there were plenty of growing pains that were concerning. We know that Mewhort will continue to work very hard and do everything he can to improve and make sure this performance doesn't happen again. That's the key: learn from these mistakes in the preseason and improve upon them.
That's the same thing that left tackle Anthony Castonzo told Mewhort during the game as he encouraged and helped the younger player after the early struggles. "I told him, ‘Next time you go out there, make sure it doesn't happen again,''' Castonzo told FOX59. "It's like tightening the screws. You go back to your techniques. You can't freak out.''
The same should probably be told to Colts fans: don't freak out… yet. There has been a lot of talk from fans over the past 24 hours about whether the Colts should move Mewhort back to guard, but that's premature. Give him some more time at right tackle to try to work through these growing pains. The concerns are real, but hopefully the improvement will be real as well. If not, then Andrew Luck could be in for a long season behind this offensive line.