Could Colts rookie Braden Smith play at tackle? Time will tell
WESTFIELD, Ind. – Braden Smith has been on the job for less than four months, but knows his place with the Indianapolis Colts.
The second-round draft pick does what he’s told and goes where he’s told to go. Balking at a positional switch isn’t an option.
“Especially as a rookie you don’t have that kind of leeway,” Smith said after Monday morning’s practice at Grand Park. “You do anything you can to get on the field and help your team.”
At least for now – we’ll see if this works – that means Smith, an all-American guard at Auburn who started his final 41 games at that position, finding himself smack dab in the middle of the open competition at right tackle. He played the entire fourth quarter of Thursday’s preseason opener at Seattle at that spot, and has taken the majority of the reps with the first unit in practice this week.
The relocation came after Smith, the 37th overall pick in the April draft, spent the entirety of the Colts’ offseason work at guard.
“I don’t think I got any reps at tackle,” Smith said.
And the last time he did?
“Got a little bit my senior year,” he said, “but just kind of practicing it.”
This is altogether different. Three weeks into training camp and with the Sept. 9 opener against the Cincinnati Bengals looming, the Colts have yet to settle on a starting right tackle.
“We’ve been rotating those guys through there,” coach Frank Reich said. “We are just waiting to see who is going to emerge.”
It was thought the Colts had resolved that issue in early May when they signed free agent Austin Howard to a one-year, $3.75 million contract. The nine-year vet with 88 career starts was a fixture at right tackle during offseason work.
But as training camp has unfolded, it’s been something of a revolving door. Howard has gotten fewer reps as the coaching staff has looked at free-agent pickup J’Marcus Webb and Smith.
At some point early in camp, position coach Dave DeGuglielmo approached Smith about sliding outside. Injuries to Anthony Castonzo, Denzelle Good and Tyreek Burwell had depleted the tackle position.
“That opened up the opportunity to play a little bit of right tackle,” Smith said.
His initial reaction?
“Just said, ‘Yes sir,’ and got ready for it,” he said.
Webb started against the Seahawks and was replaced by Howard in the third quarter. The entire fourth quarter belonged to Smith, who spent the first half at his natural right guard spot. Smith was on the field for 47 offensive snaps, second-most among linemen (Joe Haeg led the way with 56).
“It’s open competition and he’s part of it,” Reich said.
Smith certainly looks the part of NFL tackle: 6-6, 315 pounds.
“He’s got good feet and he’s smart,” Reich said. “I think he understands the game. He’s shown an aptitude in position versatility.
“It’s a little bit different. There are times I can see, especially early on, that he hasn’t played out there that much. But he’s getting better.”
Smith admitted there’s been an adjustment period. He’s used to things happening quicker and in confined spaces at guard. The competition he encounters on the edge at tackle is markedly different.
“The players are a little more finesse,” he said. “The players are a little more athletic and you’ve got a little more space over there.”
Heading into training camp, the offensive line was considered a strength, and that still might prove to be the case.
The interior appears solid with first-round pick Quenton Nelson at left guard, Ryan Kelly at center and Matt Slauson at right guard. However, left tackle Castonzo has missed extensive practice time and might not play in the preseason because of a right hamstring injury, and now the Colts are dealing with uncertainty at right tackle.
Quarterback Andrew Luck insisted he’s not concerned.
“No, not at all. Not at all,” he said. “There’s a really deep group of offensive linemen and iron sharpens iron. Competition for everybody, including myself, is a very healthy thing.
“I’m very confident in a number of guys that are sort of rotating through that position that are able to get the job done.”