One of the most important things for the success of the 2017 Indianapolis Colts will be the continued improvement of the offensive line.
They showed great promise last year, blocking very well for the run game while starting three rookies, and that has led to increased optimism moving forward. With Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, Ryan Kelly, Joe Haeg, and Le’Raven Clark, the Colts have a young line filled with potential. While that looks good, here’s the important thing: those young guys - namely, Haeg and Clark - need to keep improving to reach that potential.
That will be crucial to the state of the team’s offensive line this year, and the good news is that it sounds like there was a lot of improvement overall as a unit this offseason. They were working together a lot this offseason, and that has helped things progress.
"There's been a lot of talk about we were all here this offseason," center Ryan Kelly said last week, according to the Anderson Herald-Bulletin’s George Bremer. "I think that was a huge, crucial part of our success so far. And I think as we looked into OTAs and where we started at to where we finished mini-camp, I think we're light years from where we were before. And we're just a closer unit. Obviously we have some guys that were nicked up and injured and all that kind of stuff. But the closer overall we're gonna be, the better off we'll be. Like I said before, us being here and training together has obviously helped us a tremendous amount."
It’s that optimism about the unit that has been a staple of the talk surrounding the Colts this offseason - and, to be honest, there’s justified reason for such optimism. Castonzo, Mewhort, and Kelly can anchor the left side, and if the young guys keep improving then the line should be more than good enough. But while Jim Irsay has declared the unit fixed, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski wouldn’t exactly go that far - though he too is optimistic about the unit.
“The offensive line is a priority for us,” he said. “Improvement in that area is necessary. We have some guys I thought that came a long way last year and made significant strides and improvements. But as I’ve said before out here, what was understandable yet not acceptable last season is not going to be understandable this season. As guys grow, and you expect that kind of growth and improvement out of them as time goes and who grows and who improves the most and how it all plays out in the spring. We’ll get our chance to find out whether we’re ready to go or not and I expect us to be ready to go.”
I like the way that Chud phrased that about “what was understandable yet not acceptable last season is not going to be understandable this season.” Basically, what he’s saying is that while the Colts have a standard of excellence that they expect and that is acceptable, they understood that the young rookies last year were going to have some mistakes. They got that. But now with a year under their belts, those same mistakes aren’t going to be understandable any more. The Colts expect improvement, and they need to see it. That’s crucial for the state of the offensive line - and really, the state of the offense and therefore of the Colts - in 2017.
This is the time of year for optimism, and now they’ll need to justify it once the season rolls around.