The Indianapolis Colts are still considering switching either starting All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson or emerging star right tackle Braden Smith to left tackle—in the wake of longtime veteran anchor Anthony Castonzo’s retirement:
“Like most teams you would say have two to three, but I think we’ve got four. You know you’ve got Quenton (Nelson), who is an All-Pro. You’ve got Ryan Kelly, who’s a Pro Bowl player. You’ve got (Mark) Glowinski, who’s a really good player, and you’ve got Braden Smith, who I think is under-looked in this league.”
“So, you’ve got four good ones.”
“And I think by the time we get to training camp, we’ll find the right position for each one of them to play, where we play good football.”
“That’s my loaded question. . . . We’ll find a way to get our best five (offensive linemen) on the field in their best spots to help us win.”
Ballard could very well be saying that as a smokescreen to indicate to other teams that the Colts aren’t necessarily desperate to find a starting left tackle—perhaps to not tip his hand in either the NFL Draft or through free agency, where the team plans on actually addressing its glaring blindside hole.
However, either Nelson or Smith could theoretically make a seamless transition.
Nelson is a 3x NFL All-Pro left guard and in limited snaps against the Las Vegas Raiders (Week 14) playing left tackle in Castonzo’s absence, he actually looked pretty good out there all things considered:
Every snap from Quenton Nelson at Left Tackle back in week 14 for the Colts. Nothing spectacular but he was perfectly fine and that is probably the best the Colts are getting at this point in the year pic.twitter.com/zjb1kDycke— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 30, 2020
Meanwhile, Smith has become a young stud at right tackle, having not allowed a single sack in 578 total pass blocking snaps this past season.
Still, Nelson is a generational talent at offensive guard and the NFL’s best player at his position—already at such a young age. He probably could play left tackle just fine, but would he be as great at it? And would the Colts then run the risk of weakening two starting offensive line positions, instead of just one, at both left tackle and left guard—if he were to slide over to the blindside full-time?
Regarding Smith, he was considered an offensive guard prospect initially at the pro ranks, but he slid over to tackle in a pinch during his rookie season, and he’s never looked back—having more than held his own at starting right tackle since then.
If it ain’t broke, why tinker with it?
Later on in the show, Ballard compared switching offensive tackle sides to a dominant handed golfer having to learn to effectively swing from the other side. Less diplomatic about it, former Green Bay Packers All-Pro offensive guard Josh Sitton once compared switching offensive line sides to “Wiping your ass with your other hand.”
The Colts would still have a hole at either starting left guard or right tackle too—should either Nelson or Smith transition to starting left tackle respectively.
In other words, it’s not as easy of a flip or switch than some Colts fans may think for either Nelson or Smith—with the remaining starting offensive line hole that would still result too.
Having Nelson and Smith in the fold provides the Colts additional options right now (and insurance policies just in case), but it would still be surprising if either is ultimately starting at left tackle opening the 2021 regular season for Indianapolis.