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Colts could be relying heavily on youth in 2016

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts-Training Camp USA TODAY Sports

When the Indianapolis Colts drafted eight players in this year’s NFL Draft, there was only one expected to play a significant role as a rookie: first round center Ryan Kelly.

Now, with training camp drawing to a close, it’s possible many others will join them. Obviously Kelly is the starting center, but Joe Haeg at guard and tackle, T.J. Green at safety, and Hassan Ridgeway along the defensive line could all play a role. Does that worry a coach?

“Well, it can be unsettling depending on the situation especially if those times where you’re not ready for it maybe because of injury or what not,” Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said today. “But when you know up front it’s the way it’s going to be, you know in a situation like a Ryan Kelly, you can address it. You can help bring him along. You can set things up with your installs to help him along in that way. The comfort level really is with the person, and I’d say with Ryan and what he’s shown and done so far, I have no nervousness about that at all.”

With Joe Haeg, it’s more of a process of getting comfortable with him than it is with Kelly. He’s had to step in at right tackle with Joe Reitz missing some time in practice, and he’s also been playing quite a bit with the second team at guard.

“We are [getting comfortable with him], and I think you look at Joe and he’s moved around quite a bit,” Chud said. “We’ve been playing through and working through some injuries up front, so it’s given a lot of guys some opportunities that may not have had those opportunities. Joe is one of the guys who’s been able to fill in at multiple spots which is unusual for a rookie mentally to be able to handle all that. He’s done a fine job, and it’s a matter of getting him settled back. We get some other guys going and really, again, settle on the best five.”

On defense, T.J. Green has received plenty of reps with the first team due to Clayton Geathers being out with an injury. And now with both Henry Anderson and Kendall Langford out along the defensive line, Hassan Ridgeway has stepped up to take the first team snaps at defensive tackle. Does relying that much on rookies make defensive coordinator Ted Monachino anxious?

“Of course,” he said today. “We’re anxious just about 24 hours a day and seven days a week, but knowing where we are roster-wise right now there’s some anxiety there. But we also have a great deal of confidence in our coaching staff and in our players to be able to go in and compete, perform and play winning ball. Like I said, we’re going to do what we can to make sure that those shoes fit those players well and that they can play well and play fast and we’ll do what they can do best as often as we possibly can. Anxious? Yes. Can’t wait to get started and get them out there and see what we look like against somebody in another color. But right now, our concerns are today’s practice, tomorrow’s practice and being ready to go on Saturday.”

The Colts have undergone a shift in philosophy this offseason to the point where they are being very intentional about trying to develop youth for the future. That doesn’t mean it’s an ideal situation to become so reliant upon rookies, but the reality is that it might happen. Only one guy is a legitimate starter, but depending on injuries to other starters the Colts might have to count on some other younger players too. We mentioned Joe Haeg, T.J. Green, and Hassan Ridgeway, but other guys like Trevor Bates, Earl Okine, Ron Thompson, Curt Maggitt, and Josh Ferguson all have a shot at making the roster too, as do some of the undrafted wide receivers. The Colts have no choice but to be have those guys ready to play, whether it’s risky or not.