One of the most highly contested position groups for the Indianapolis Colts is the offensive line. Quarterback Andrew Luck has been under duress far too much during his young career and he is without a doubt the most important piece of the team’s chances to succeed.
After numerous signings and attempts to fix the offensive line primarily through free agency, former General Manager Ryan Grigson finally got serious about addressing the problem in the 2016 NFL Draft. He drafted four offensive linemen and three of those offensive linemen were starting by the end of the year.
Still, questions remain. No one other than Ryan Kelly has proven himself to be a reliable starter and the answer long-term. Second year players Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark are the clear front-runners for the starting spots so it makes sense to take a look at each player and see where they best fit.
We’ll start with Le’Raven Clark and analyze his performance against the Vikings, Raiders, and Jaguars.
Clark shows good awareness here to come off of the initial block to get a body on the free rusher. His drop-step and long arms kept Luck clean. What would have been a sack turned into a short gain.
One of Clark’s biggest attributes coming out of college was his freakish athleticism for a man his size. He puts it on display here as he gets moving quickly to the outside and keeps his man from having any impact on the play.
Here Clark shows an area he could use some improvement. Let me be clear, this was the exception and not the rule, but what happened to him was not getting beat physically. This was a mental mistake.
Clark was “expecting” help, possibly from Doyle who he knew was pulling his way, and instead of engaging the defender and driving him out of the play he allowed pressure that led to an interception.
Some of this is to be expected because he is a rookie who only had a couple of games starting under his belt. However, it is worth keeping an eye on as mental mistakes hurt just as bad as physical limitations if they become a habit.
On another passing play against Oakland, Clark does a much better job of keeping his head on a swivel and making a smart mental play. He realizes the he needs to protect the pocket and does an excellent job not only shadowing Mack as he attempts to pressure Luck but also showing a good anchor against one of the best pass rushers in the league, allowing Luck to make a clean pass.
One of the biggest areas that surprised me was Clark’s run blocking. The big concern for Clark coming into the NFL was that he played in Texas Tech’s air raid style offense that really didn’t require much of him as a run blocker and didn’t require him to put his hand in the dirt.
Here he seals the defender from the hole and allows Gore running room.
Clark again shows his athleticism in the running game by putting a chip on the initial defender and moving into the second level to seal off the inside linebacker. This is exactly how you draw it up as an offensive line coach or offensive coordinator and Clark does this naturally with the speed to get to the second level before the runner arrives.
One of the other big questions that relates to run blocking and being more of a finesse blocker in college is what we can expect of Clark when he has to be strong in the trenches. You can see here that he latches on to the defender and pushes him five yards down the field.
This play represents what most of Clark’s plays look like when he is pass blocking. It is striking how much he controls of the defenders once he engages them with his hands. I didn’t see a single play where he truly locked on and any player, Mack included, got the better of him. He has a great anchor and stuffs any movement from the defender here. Threat neutralized.
This play demonstrates the only other weakness that really caught my eye with Clark and it happened on a couple of occasions. When he locks on to a player he is in excellent shape but if he tries to punch the defender and simply push him away, he is susceptible to guys getting underneath him. Remember he is tall and has long arms so when a player gets his body inside of those big paws, the leverage game is over.
He can likewise work on this over the off-season and it’s certainly fair to expect to see improvement with another full off-season with Philbin and hopefully continuity on the right side. Still, this was the only sack I saw that he was legitimately responsible for in three games and he only had one false start penalty to go with it. Not bad for a rookie who didn’t do anything for more than half of his first season.
After watching Clark I don’t think the Colts need help at right tackle. I fully expect that he will improve in his second season.
He is a strong pass protector who drop-steps and shadows defenders well with long arms, strong hands, and can control defenders once he engages them. He is quick enough and agile enough to get outside or up the field when he is asked to block on the move. He is strong enough to seal defensive linemen to open up running lanes and showed the strength multiple times to get significant push when he drives defenders straight ahead.
His upside is a real candidate to take over at left tackle in a year or two. His downside is a starting right tackle right now, in my opinion.
I will also note that Luck’s pressure consistently seemed to come from up the middle. Our weak point, especially after Mewhort went down was at guard. Jonotthan Harrison was absolutely abused regularly in those games. Haeg and Clark also appeared to have some trouble communicating from time to time but it often looked like Haeg was the bearer of greater responsibility when there was trouble on the right side of the line.
I will take a closer look at Haeg next and see if the tape is consistent with my initial thoughts.