We all know that the Colts’ offensive line was among the worst in the NFL last season. Colts’ quarterbacks were pressured on 24.2% of the passing attempts, the 8th worst number in the league, and they gave up the second most sacks. Chris Ballard made two huge bets on journeyman Matt Pryor panning out at left tackle and former tight end in college, and backup center Danny Pinter taking over the right guard spot. I have no problem with the bets he made, the problem was he did not hedge them. Going into the season, the only backup plan at those positions was either the then injured Dennis Kelly or rookie Bernard Raimann at tackle, and seventh round pick Will Fries at right guard. When neither Pinter nor Pryor performed, former head coach Frank Reich had to scramble for answers with the pieces he had, which were severely limited. He tried to move Pryor over to the right side and put Braden Smith at guard, which failed horribly as Pryor was just as bad on the right as on the left, he tried out Dennis Kelly, and only when Bernard Raimann took over the left tackle spot for good and Will Fries established himself as the starter did the offensive line hold up, and that was with interim (and hopefully not permanent...) head coach Jeff Saturday.
From what I have been seeing from Ballard, he definitely learnt from his mistakes, and he must know that failing to get quality offensive linemen, or a plan B in case his gambles do not pay off, was a crucial mistake.
Thing is, let’s go position-by-position and figure out where the Colts’ offensive line is in dire need of immediate help. The left tackle spot is locked up by Raimann, a third-round pick that was among the best tackles in the NFL from weeks 12-18, allowing just three pressures in that span. Left guard is of course Quenton Nelson, who is not going anywhere any time soon. Center is still Ryan Kelly, who had a rough year but should still be the long-term answer. Right tackle is the always reliable Braden Smith. Not taking depth into account, which the Colts’ desperately need all along the offensive line, that leaves us with just right guard as the glaring hole.
Chris Ballard managed to find Mark Glowinski and Chris Reed in the past, so he clearly is a proper talent evaluator along the offensive line, and this year there are some free-agents that the team should definitely be interested in. I am not talking about Nate Davis and Isaac Seumalo, who are for sure going to cost a pretty penny, but other unheralded players that would provide the line a much needed boost. Justin Pugh, Trai Turner, and Oday Aboushi are all guys that could cost under 5M a year and would start right away on this team. Unfortunately the draft is not filled with top level guards, but there are some intriguing options in the later rounds to beef up that front.
Overall, if you think about it, the Colts are just one right guard away from being a top offensive line in the NFL once again. Chris Strausser is surely gone as the offensive line coach (thankfully), so whoever comes in will bring a new guy to help lead an unit that underperformed last year and should only get better next season, which is why the Colts’ offensive line has been blown way out of proportion.