Perhaps no position group in Indianapolis received greater attention from Chris Ballard in the 2018 offseason than the offensive line. Two of the Colts’ three top draft picks were spent on bolstering the interior. Free agents Matt Slauson and Austin Howard were brought in to add talent and infuse a young group with more veteran leadership. It is highly likely that there will be two or even three new starters when the season kicks off this fall.
In the portion of OTA’s that were open to the media, the Colts featured a starting group of Denzelle Good at left tackle, Quenton Nelson at left guard, Ryan Kelly at center, Matt Slauson at right guard and Austin Howard at right tackle. It is worth noting that Anthony Castonzo was sitting out — Reich provided no explanation for his absence nor the absence of any other player.
At first glance, this starting group makes a great deal of sense. Slauson has started a ton of football games in his career and certainly would have an edge on rookies and other young linemen from the perspective of being entirely prepared to jump right into the system and get things moving. Similarly, Howard could have very well been the starting right tackle in Indianapolis if he was on the team last year, so seeing him start there are this point also makes sense.
What could be encouraging for the Colts is that Good is getting early work at left tackle. He was already projected to be a front runner to compete with Howard to start at right tackle and the fact that he’s getting a look at left tackle as well should help expand the breadth of his repetitions in the new system and cannot hurt his value.
The IndyStar’s Stephen Holder has built a reputation for learning quite a bit from Ballard. He reports that it is unlikely the Colts will try to move Quenton Nelson from left guard. Holder wrote:
Nelson is likely to be a fixture at left guard, and the Colts don’t seem likely to tinker with a position where he’s enjoyed great success.
With Kelly back to full strength and Nelson holding down his spot at left guard, it is easy for the fan base to start getting excited about the changes that are ahead for a group that has struggled so much in previous years. There is every reason to believe that the competition for starting spots, and even to fill out the depth, is going to be higher this year than it has been in perhaps more than a decade for the offensive line.
Consider that, barring injury, there at least six players who have an inside track on a roster spot. Castonzo, Nelson, Kelly, Slauson, Howard and Smith are all but guaranteed spots on the roster unless young players knock out the veteran additions. If we assume that these six are relatively safe there will be a ton of competition to fill the final three, or at most four, spots on the final roster — including previous starters.
Somehow former every-year starter Jack Mewhort finds himself in a group of players who may be simply competing for a roster spot. Now, his upside is a Week 1 starter so he should have a good chance to stick but there’s no guarantee he makes the roster at this point. Deyshawn Bond filled in admirably early in the season for Kelly last year and can play center or guard. Joe Haeg has played at guard and tackle and took second-team reps at center — his versatility could keep him on the roster.
Good started 2017 at right tackle and has earned reps at left tackle in OTA’s — he has also played guard. Le’Raven Clark showed an incredible amount of growth in his rookie season but has since taken a step back. If he figures it out under a new coaching staff and in a new system, he is clearly one of the most athletically gifted linemen on the roster. While much of the fan base will hiss loudly, even Jeremy Vujnovich is in competition to simply make the roster after he was a year-long starter in 2017.
At this point, it is extremely likely that former starters won’t even make the Colts roster. There is a reason these players won’t be on the team but there is no doubt that it also indicates that there is a significant change for the Colts up front. This unit will look a lot different than it did in previous years and with any luck with health and development, it could end up being one of the strongest units on the team.