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Colts’ Joe Philbin: “If you don’t have protection, you don’t have a pass game”

Colts offensive line coach Joe Philbin addresses the media at Anderson University as he arrives for training camp.
Photo taken by Josh Wilson (SB Nation)

This offseason the biggest area of focus when it came to the Indianapolis Colts, both for the team and for those watching the team, was the offensive line. They used their first round pick and four of eight draft picks total on the unit, and they brought in a bit-name coach in Joe Philbin to lead the unit.

Philbin is the former head coach of the Miami Dolphins and a longtime offensive line coach, and he’s excited to get back to coaching the position he knows so well. He admitted to us today that there’s a little bit of adjustment for him as well as for the players.

It has been hard to get an understanding of what Philbin will do with the Colts’ offensive line, but he told a few of us in the media today at Anderson University some more details - using a basketball analogy to explain his mindset with the offensive line.

“I kind of use the basketball mentality a lot of times,” Philbin explained. “You’re playing man-to-man defense in basketball and when you do a good job in basketball, the further you keep a guy away from the hoop, he’s probably not going to get as many rebounds, his shooting percentage probably isn’t going to be as good, right? In football, in man-to-man pass protection, the further you keep your guy away from the quarterback the interception rate probably goes down, the hits go down, decision-making goes up, all those things. So I kind of use a little basketball metaphor, I guess.”

His point is well-taken: the further a lineman keeps his guy away from the quarterback, the more good things are going to happen. And ultimately, it all comes down to that for the offensive line: protecting the quarterback. That emphasis is especially prevalent in Indianapolis, where Andrew Luck has been hit more than any quarterback in football over the past four years and where Luck just signed a record-breaking six-year, $140 million extension. The Colts’ focus is on protecting Luck, and Philbin knows it.

“It’s a big part of it,” he said today. “When you’re an offensive lineman, your job description is kind of clear cut: you run block and you pass block. Those are the critical elements in their job, and my job is to get them to perform at a high level. But with that said, football is a team game, so we want to do everything we can to keep the quarterback upright, keep the pocket clean. But really, it’s a unit thing. There’s other parts, elements, to a good pass game, but certainly it starts with protection. If you don’t have protection, you don’t have a pass game. But receivers have to get open, quarterback has to throw the ball, gotta be in the right spots. So there’s a lot that goes into it but certainly it starts with protection and it starts with, we’re kind of built as a one-on-one pass protection - one man blocking one man and at the end of the day you have to be able to do that to be able to play in the National Football League.”

Philbin mentioned several times that one-on-one protection, but other than that the Colts aren’t yet decided on one specific form of protection or one way of going about things. Instead, they’re remaining flexible as they see what they have.

“We’ve been multiple,” Philbin said of their scheme this offseason. “The big thing is, as we head into training camp and start getting the pads on, is trying to figure out with the pads on what do we feel like we can be good at? You know what I mean? What fits our guys the best? In OTAs, it’s great [and] I love OTAs, but that being said sometimes you get a little bit of a false read on where you’re at, especially in the O-line. So I think the next two weeks and beyond, they’re going to be really, really critical to our development as a football team offensively and finding out what we’re good at, what schemes fit our personnel the best, our running back. It’s not just always the O-line, so that’s going to be interesting as we get this thing rolling.”

When talking with Joe Philbin, you get the strong sense that he considers himself a teacher first. He even said that, “the reason that I got hired as a coach is to help players get better, so that’s my job. That’s the task at hand, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.” Philbin thrives on the player interaction and on helping teach those players how to be better football players. He is excited to be a part of this coaching staff and is excited to be in Indianapolis, and he will really be able to get a better read on the talent he has over the next couple of weeks.