One of the annual storylines for the Indianapolis Colts has been discerning whether or not they have improved their offensive line. Despite former GM Ryan Grigson using several picks throughout his tenure along the line, very few ever panned out.
Chris Ballard’s first attempt to bolster the group in the 2017 NFL Draft failed to make any sort of impact as well. The only pick didn’t make the team — Zach Banner — and has since bounced around the league to no avail.
The feeling around the current upgrades, though, is quite different than years past. Quenton Nelson needs no introduction, Braden Smith is a highly athletic lineman with a little bit of nasty to his game as well and the Colts filled in some spots by re-signing Jack Mewhort and bringing in Matt Slauson and Austin Howard in free agency.
Now, however, the Colts have three homegrown first-round picks at center, left guard and left tackle who they hope can lock down the left side of the line. They also have two homegrown second-round picks battling with a 8-year, proven veteran for the right guard spot, as well as another 8-year pro holding down the right tackle position as it currently stands.
With Denzelle Good and Joe Haeg joining the competition for immediate backups, this Colts line appears — on paper — to be much stronger than in past years.
Colts’ center Ryan Kelly likes what he sees as well.
“Yeah, I know we have smart, tough guys... I think we have four or five new guys in the room.. I think where we were from day one to where we are now, I think we’ve come a long way. Coach (Dave) DeGuglielmo has been incredible for us, just helping us get along.”
While Kelly was a Grigson pick, Nelson, Slauson and Smith have come in with the moniker of being nasty along the line. The Colts desperately need that in order to change the game within the game in the trenches. No Colts offensive line in recent history has scared opponents, rather, they’ve been seen as a clear team weakness instead.
Kelly hopes this group can alter that perception and force opposing defenses to come to the line with a different state of mind.
“It’s just when a defensive line comes up and they see us walking to the line of scrimmage, they know, ‘Okay, these guys are going to pepper us every single time.’ If it’s that late shove at the end of the game or at the end of the play or whatever it is to protect our wide receivers or our running backs, all that kind of stuff, it just instills a mindset to the entire defense that we’re playing against that..”
As for Kelly himself, his time off with injury last season has forced some to forget about him. His rookie season was quite impressive, playing all 16 games, being a force in the running game and not yielding a sack throughout the season gave us all hope in the future of the line. But, a sophomore season of playing only 7 games, and not really playing at that same level when he was healthy seems to have relinquished all of that.
Kelly, coming out of the 2016 draft, was seen as a lock — the best center, and to some, the best interior lineman of the bunch. This year, with the talented, athletic additions to the unit, Kelly will be looked upon to lead that group to much bigger and better things. An improved backfield getting better second- and third-level blocking, along with legitimate protection for the franchise quarterback could make for an exciting season for the Colts offense.
We’ll see if the chemistry comes together for this group to lead the team in propping up one of the most consistent holes in the roster over the past several years.