With teams still not able to properly access their facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is some question about exactly if and when training camp will begin, as well as what it will look like if it does. However, let’s assume that some of the early positive signs prove to hold up and we are able to resume some kind of normality. The Colts are primed to be an exciting team in 2020, and ahead of camp, we’re going to review every position group and see how they look on paper.
Today we’re talking about the engine that will drive this Colts team, the offensive line. This group is almost certainly the strongest unit on the roster, and the one that will determine just how far the 2020 Indianapolis Colts will go. Behind this line, Philip Rivers will have some of the best protection he’s seen in his career, and the two-headed monster of Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor will be cut loose to bludgeon opposing defenses into submission. Let’s take a closer look at the individual guys that make up this impressive group.
The name at the tip of everyone’s tongue when talking about the Colts offensive line is obviously All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, and that praise is well-deserved. But Anthony Castonzo might just be the most under-appreciated player on the roster. While he doesn’t offer the highlight reel pancakes that Nelson does, he is the guy the Colts want on the left side, consistently there to keep his QB upright.
The picture of consistency, Castonzo has been holding down the left side of the line since his selection in 2011, and he had one of his best seasons in 2019. He’ll turn 32 before the start of this season, and seriously mulled retirement ahead of this season, before re-signing with the team on a 2-year $33M deal with $17M in guarantees.
When Castonzo missed the start of the 2018 season, the offense struggled greatly, and his return to the lineup in week 6 marked the start of a five-game streak where the team didn’t give up a sack. A leader of the group, his veteran presence on the team is important, and the Colts are very lucky they were able to bring him back for at least one more season.
The Colts offensive line went through a total transformation, and that began with Quenton Nelson. A consummate competitor and excellent teammate, Nelson is about domination. He talked in an interview about how much he enjoys when you are imposing your will on a defender to the point that they can’t even be bothered to talk trash anymore. This is a player who lives to break the will of the man across from him.
Just as much as he enjoys making defenses miserable, he is as consistently supporting his teammates. Watch any Colts game since his arrival and you’d be hard-pressed to find a play where he isn’t at least the second player on the scene to help pick up a teammate off the turf. On a 5-yard run or a 60-yard bomb, Nelson is sprinting to get there to be the hand helping up his fellow Colt.
In terms of his ability on the field, no one does it better. Nelson is a beast, able to outpower his opponents and take advantage of any mistakes they make. He’s gone toe-to-toe with the best in the NFL and come out on the other side looking every bit like the player the Colts thought he would be when they took him 6th overall. His bully mentality has infected the offensive line, and is a big part of what makes them so effective.
Like Castonzo, Ryan Kelly is an under-appreciated part of the Colts offensive line. The guy calling the shots up front for the group and has gotten better with each season. One of only 3 draft picks by former GM Ryan Grigson who remain on the roster, Kelly has been a solid addition, though he has struggled with injuries that have limited his impact. 2019 saw a complete 16-game season, and that cohesion at center really helped keep the line at their best.
Kelly is a run blocker first, able to climb the pocket well and take opposing linebackers out of the play, which blows open some big holes for the running backs to take advantage of. While run blocking might be his greatest area of strength, that is not to say he struggles with pass blocking. 2019 saw improvement on that front, and with a second season in Chris Strausser’s less conventional pass sets, he is likely to have improved even further.
As with Nelson, Kelly has the kind of bully mentality that makes this line so unpleasant to deal with. They aren’t content to simply beat you, they want to demoralize you. With Kelly and Nelson side-by-side on the interior, there are almost always going to be running lanes open for this team in 2020. The only question is whether Kelly can have another injury-free season.
If you asked Colts fans which player is the weakest link on the offensive line, you would almost certainly get Mark Glowinski as a unanimous response. While that is technically correct, it also undersells his contribution pretty badly. To hear many Colts fans tell it, Glowinski is a turnstile and the primary limitation on the offensive line.
Glowinski had a down season in 2019, with defensive coordinators keying off on him frequently as well as a major downgrade at quarterback, which makes the job of a blocker even tougher. Even so, Glowinski was reliable at the right guard position, and far from a liability. He held down his spot consistently, and played like an average starter through the 2019 season.
Better as a run blocker than in the pass, Glowinski gives the Colts a blocker who can move in space, which suits them well as a team that likes to have their guards pulling. Especially in pass blocking, Glowinski could stand to improve his hands to keep defenders from getting inside and getting moved around. Overall, Glowinski is an average starter at right guard. On a team that craves competition, expect Ballard to bring in guys to challenge him for his spot, but ultimately, he is a capable starter.
Rounding out the starting offensive line is right tackle Braden Smith. Smith was a surprise that came out of Ballard’s absurdly good 2018 draft class, and cemented himself as the starting right tackle midway through the season. Smith had another good season in 2019, improving as both a run and pass blocker.
His major asset is his strength, where Smith is able to out-power most anyone he comes across. As a run blocker, he uses that power to dominate the guy across from him, and he has the right size and length to be effective, despite being drafted initially to play guard.
His 2019 pass blocking was slightly worse than in his rookie season, a fact that also might be impacted by the type of pass sets that Chris Strausser likes to run. A more aggressive pass set is new territory for Smith and he adjusted more slowly than perhaps many would hope, but with a second year in the system it should be time to see the fruits of those changes in 2020. Perhaps his biggest struggle is a general lack of lateral agility, which can get Smith beaten both on the outside, or when he gets set up by defenders and beaten on the interior. There were several snaps last season where Mark Glowinski looked bad largely because Smith made mistakes.
Despite some struggles, Braden Smith is an above average starter two years into his NFL career. With a better QB under center, another year under his belt, and more time to adjust to a different way of playing the position under the offensive line coach, Braden Smith should be primed for a great 2020.
Currently, the offensive line depth is a big question. Le’Raven Clark has filled in before, and Jake Eldrenkamp is certainly in the mix for a backup role. The Colts really seem to love their 5th round pick, Danny Pinter, and hopefully he can stick and be a quality backup. The reality is that if any of their starters go down with a serious injury, it is a major blow to this offensive line unit. Expect Ballard to be a waiver wire hawk looking specifically at offensive line depth.