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Colts offensive line still shuffling as regular season approaches

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Even casual football fans in Indianapolis have had the importance of continuity drilled into their brains regarding the performance of an offensive line. The total lack of continuity on the line has been regularly singled out as the reason the Colts have failed to do a better job of protecting Andrew Luck. Of course, continuity alone can’t fix everything as the line needs quality NFL players to fill each position and those players need to stay healthy.

After former general manager Ryan Grigson threw the 2016 NFL Draft at trying to fix this problem, fans started to have some hope. With first round center Ryan Kelly, guard/tackle Joe Haeg, tackle Le’Raven Clark, and potential backup center Austin Blythe in tow — joining projected guard/tackle Denzelle Good from the 2015 NFL Draft — there was some hope that light was starting to show at the end of the tunnel. In fact, the last four games of the 2016 season indicated that Le’Raven Clark had made astronomical strides in his development as a rookie, Ryan Kelly had proven he deserved his draft position, and Joe Haeg played so many snaps along the line at different positions relatively well that he had a very bright future ahead of him.

As the summer program got underway, the starting offensive line was set — or so fans were led to believe. Team owner Jim Irsay even declared the offensive line “fixed” at one point and referenced a conversation with former offensive line coach Howard Mudd. A lot has changed since then.

Center Ryan Kelly suffered a foot injury that will certainly cost him the start of the regular season. It is expected that he will miss 4-6 games. Second year tackle Le’Raven Clark is not injured but somehow is giving way to competition from Jeremy Vujunovich and now rookie tackle Zach Banner.

Former starting left guard Jack Mewhort has now moved to starting right guard. Undrafted rookie Deyshawn Bond is now taking first team snaps at center. Three different players are getting first team reps at right tackle. The starting center will miss meaningful time in the regular season. The lone free agent signing on the offensive line, center/guard Brian Schwenke, started training camp on the PUP list and and has only now come off of it.

Uh oh?

This is starting to sound all too familiar. There is a lot of shuffling on the line. Veterans are moving from one side to another. Second year player Joe Haeg spent the vast majority of his snaps on the right side of the line and is now on the left. When Andrew Luck returns to the field he will likely be taking snaps from another center. While this should be pretty familiar for Luck at this point it can’t be desirable.

Since Luck was drafted, these are the players who have entered games as the starting center: Samson Satele, A.Q. Shipley, Khaled Holmes, Mike McGlynn, Jonotthan Harrison, and Ryan Kelly. That is six players in five seasons played with a strong likelihood for number seven when he takes his first snaps in 2017.

While it is certainly true that training camp and preseason is the time for competition and for figuring out who the “best five are” heading into the regular season. It would be even better if the top five players were so good and worked so well together that the backups were working hard to make the roster and simply provided the Colts with starting level support when they take the field.

At this point, fans are likely going to head into another season where the offensive line competition is unsettled. With Luck coming off of shoulder surgery and Ryan Kelly recovering from a foot injury, an unsettled offensive line is the last things fans want to hear.