Once again, Colts dealing with revamped offensive line
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but there’s change afoot with the Indianapolis Colts offensive line.
A franchise searching for continuity over the past five months – a for-sure, no-doubt, this-is-it starting five – once again finds itself shuffling the deck as Sunday’s season opener with the Los Angeles Rams looms.
To the point: for the sixth time in Chuck Pagano’s six-year stint as head coach, a different combination will be trotted out on opening day. And With Ryan Kelly’s broken foot, the Colts are going with a different opening-day center (Deyshawn Bond) for a fifth straight season.
Let that sink in. And this: Sunday’s combo will mark the 39th different alignment since 2012, a stretch of 81 regular-season games.
A good portion of Pagano’s Wednesday press conference dealt with – what else? – the latest overhaul at a position that’s been in constant flux.
If he’s worried, Pagano did a great job of camouflaging his angst with humor.
“I think we’re fine,’’ he said. “I woke up this morning and couldn’t wait to get to work. Coffee machine worked, had creamer in the frigid. I had a great ride in (to work). I’ve never felt better about an offensive line or a football team. Never felt better.
“You guys can write it, put it on the record and hold it to me. We’ll come in afterward and there are going to be some mistakes made. But we’re going to dress seven, maybe eight guys and all those guys will be prepared to play good football.
“You guys may be losing sleep at night, but we need our rest to recover, so we’re not.’’
The latest group:
- Left Tackle Anthony Castonzo. The 2011 first-round pick has started 89 of a possible 96 regular-season games.
- Left Guard Jeremy Vujnovich. He’s in his second season with the Colts and his NFL experience from 2016 consists of two games and seven snaps on offense. He’ll obviously make his first start against the Rams.
- Center Deyshawn Bond. He’s a great story. Undrafted rookie. Warren Central High School product. Stepping in for Kelly. But as we mentioned, he’s a rookie. He’ll also be the Colts’ fifth different starting center in as many season openers.
- Right Guard Jack Mewhort. The 2014 second-round pick has started 40 regular-season games, but none at right guard (36 at left guard, four at right tackle). The coaching staff is big on “cross training’’ with its linemen, and Mewhort started two preseason games at right guard. It’s worth noting Mewhort’s practice time was monitored all preseason as he returned from a 2016 knee injury.“I’m feeling good,’’ he said. “They let me go Monday full-go and I ran around and felt great. I feel like myself. I look like myself on film. I’m real positive going into the season.’’
- Right Tackle Denzelle Good. He has 14 starts on his resume: 10 at right guard last season and four at right tackle in 2015, his rookie season. Good’s preparation for his third season included dropping 20 pounds. He feels quicker and better at 335.
With Kelly expected to miss multiple games, the healthy backups should be Joe Haeg, Le’Raven Clark and recently-signed Ian Silberman. The latter, a waiver-wire pickup from Oakland, has appeared in one game.
General manager Chris Ballard acknowledged Monday the offensive line still was in flux, and he wasn’t kidding.
“We won’t know if we’ve really got it fixed until we get five guys in there and let them play together and let them develop together,’’ he said. “On the offensive line . . . it’s never about the one guy. It’s about the unit. It’s about all five of them playing together, and it’s not always the five most talented guys.
“It’s about the five guys that will play together. Are we there, yet? Probably not, but we’ll keep working.’’
Castonzo, Mewhort and Good offer a level of confidence based on their combined 143 starts.
But it’s impossible not to be a little concerned with the presence of two first-time starters in the lineup. The Rams’ defense won’t have tackle Aaron Donald, who’s still holding out for a new contract, but it’s still loaded and features pass-rush threat Robert Quinn.
Bond and Vujnovich will be tested from the first snap.
Is Pagano concerned with the first-timers?
“Yes and no,’’ he said. “It’s a great opportunity for them. There’s going to be some on-the-job training. There’s going to be some bad moments.
“And that’s OK. Put ‘em behind you and move on. I have confidence in those guys.’’
Bond’s path to his first career start began quietly. He participated in the Colts’ local Pro Day in April. He wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and went undrafted, but the Cincinnati standout was signed as a free agent in May.
Bond stepped in when Kelly broke a bone in his left foot in August, and has been the man with his hand on the football ever since.
“Gaining confidence was a key for me,’’ he said. “Coming in as an undrafted guy, I didn’t know what to expect. Just seeing how my coaches and my teammates believe in me really helped me push myself, to help me believe I could do it.’’
Bond is the fifth different opening-day starter at center, following Kelly, Khaled Holmes (in 2015), A.Q. Shipley (’14) and Samson Satele (’13). Should anyone be concerned?
“No, there shouldn’t be a concern,’’ he insisted. “As long as my teammates believe in me, that helps me believe in myself. That keeps me going every day.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.