With the start of training camp, we can finally begin to get a look at the kinds of lineups we are likely to see once the Colts begin the regular season. Throughout the offseason, there has been lots of speculation about how the team would look and who will be starting where, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
While we talked a good deal about the potential for change or new faces on the offensive line, one thing that came as a bit of a surprise was seeing Jack Mewhort and Joe Haeg switched on the offensive line. For the second practice in a row they have lined up this way and it seems this is to be a more permanent change.
Mewhort has been the Colts’ most reliable lineman at the left guard position, and he and left tackle Anthony Castonzo have been lining up beside one another consistently since 2015. This change will spread out the veteran leaders of the offensive line and provide support on the right side to second-year player Le’Raven Clark at right tackle.
The second year is typically a big one for offensive linemen. Rookies have to make a big jump when moving to the NFL because few college schemes are as demanding of their offensive line as in the NFL. After a year of digesting the playbook, learning their responsibilities, and observing veterans in action, it is fair to expect significant improvement in their play.
This move says a couple things in my mind. It says that the Colts think Joe Haeg is up to the challenge of playing the left guard spot, and that they value having a veteran player working beside Clark to solidify the right side. Given how well Ryan Kelly played his rookie season, expectations are high that he will have an even better second year, which means that the only glaring questions are Haeg and Clark. Now both will be beside proven, seasoned veterans.
As Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star pointed out, this can give them better chances against defensive linemen’s stunts and twists, areas that the younger players struggled last season. On the Stampede Blue Colts Cast, our own Matt Danely and Colts.com’s Kevin Bowen even discussed briefly that this might be in an attempt to address a specific matchup that the coaching staff saw in the offseason.
It was unexpected to be sure to see this change happen after an offseason spent talking about continuity on the line, but making that change from the beginning makes the most sense. It will allow for as much in the way of continuity as possible while still taking a strategy that the team thinks gives them the chance at the best combination of players at each position.
One thing to keep an eye on is Castonzo. Breaking up that left side tandem of Castonzo and Mewhort means that Castonzo cannot have a wishy-washy season. While he had good games over the last season, he struggled with consistently performing at his best. He is one of the Colts highest paid players and he needs to play like it this season.
The bottom line for this unit is that the second year players will need to take major steps this season to improve if they hope to become a more formidable group and keep their quarterback upright. This move is a bit out of the box of what most expected the Colts to do, and it could be that Ballard’s outside perspective saw something that many in the building were too close to see.
Time will tell if this move works out, but it is clear that we can expect the team to keep tweaking and changing things to get the best possible roster come game day.