INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Shots were fired. Sort of.
And shots were returned. Sort of.
Brandon Graham, a long-time catalyst for the Philadelphia Eagles disruptive defense, launched a verbal salvo that found its way to the Indianapolis Colts’ West 56th Street complex and to its intended target.
That would be offensive tackle Joe Haeg.
Asked by the Philadelphia media if quarterback Carson Wentz had offered any advice on Haeg, his teammate at North Dakota State, Graham hardly dodged the question.
“From what I see so far, it’s going to be a good day,’’ he said.
Them’s fightin’ words!
Haeg summarily brushed it off.
“It’s all talk,’’ he said Thursday afternoon. “I don’t really put too much weight into it. We go out there (and) we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.
“They have good players, but we do, too.’’
The Eagles have generated six sacks and 33 quarterback pressures in two games. Graham still is looking for his first sack of the season, but tackle Fletcher Cox has been an interior terror with 2.5 sacks and 14 pressures/hits.
As for Graham’s comment being bulletin board material, Haeg again declined to engage.
“I definitely don’t look for stuff like that. I never have,’’ he said. “For some people, that’s what they’ve got to do . . . talk or look for stuff to get motivated about.
“I’m just a guy that goes out and works and see what happens.’’
Offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo insisted he hadn’t heard of Graham’s comment, but added “it’s never good’’ when his players pay attention to things “from outside their own room.’’
“Offensive line is a tough position where no one’s really talking about you unless something’s bad,’’ he said. “If you start listening to things, even when people say good things about you, they’re just setting you up for the kill.’’
So, no reaction to Graham?
“That guy thinks he’s going to have a good day? Good for him,’’ DeGuglielmo said with a smile. “We think we’re going to have a good day. That’s just how it goes.’’
How it’s gone thus far for Haeg and the Colts’ offensive line is pretty darned well.
The running game has hardly been robust – 89.5 yards per game, 3.6 yards per attempt – but has had its moments. Sunday, rookie Jordan Wilkins gouged Washington for 61 yards on 10 carries and fellow rookie Nyheim Hines added a determined, spinning, diving 8-yard touchdown.
And pass protection, especially by Colts’ standards, has been solid. Andrew Luck has been sacked three times and hit another 13 times on 87 drop-backs in two games. For perspective, he was sacked 156 times and hit more than 500 times in his first 70 regular-season games.
DeGuglielmo was reserved in his early-season assessment.
“We’re a work in progress,’’ he said. “We’re still a long way from where we want to be. So far we’ve been able to hold up for the most part.’’
In pass protection, DeGuglielmo added, “our goal is (Luck) sitting in the middle (of the pocket), so don’t let anybody in there. When we have softness in the middle we have to do some things to change our pocket, and that upsets me.’’
Whatever level of success the offensive line has realized has been achieved with constant shuffling at both tackle spots. The Colts have fielded different starters in each of the first two games: Haeg at left tackle against Cincinnati in the opener and Le’Raven Clark last week against the Redskins; J’Marcus Webb at right tackle against the Bengals and Haeg at Washington.
Long-time left tackle Anthony Castonzo has yet to practice after aggravating a hamstring injury last week, so it’s likely the Colts will stick with a Clark/Haeg tandem on the edges against the Eagles. Veteran Denzelle Good has been limited the last two days with wrist and knee injuries.
“In the modern NFL, look, you’re not going to play with five guys all year long so you’d better prepare for that and that started in the spring,’’ DeGuglielmo said. “Joe played center in the spring. That’s just the way it is. Their value comes in how many different positions they can play. If you’re not a guy like Castonzo or (center Ryan) Kelly that are really one-hole players, they have to be able to do multiple things.’’
Haeg has started 31 games at four positions in two-plus seasons: 21 at right tackle, seven at right guard, two at left guard and one at left tackle. Clark’s start at Washington was his first at left tackle.
“I think they’re starting to understand whoever’s in there, is in there,’’ DeGuglielmo said. “We can cry about who’s not there, but some of these guys I’ve never had. Never had them for a day or two.
“How can I miss something I’ve never had?’’
DeGuglielomo indicated his first order of business with the offensive line in April was reshaping its collective psyche. For too long, the group had been criticized for allowing Luck and backup QBs Jacoby Brissett and Matt Hasselbeck to absorb too much punishment.
“When I got here I thought they were a little bit down,’’ he said. “You could see they didn’t carry their heads high when they walked around as a unit.’’
They lacked confidence as a group?
“I don’t know if they were believing or not,’’ DeGuglielmo said. “I just know they didn’t look like they were roosters with their chests out and singing a good song.
“They were melancholy when we started this thing. Now I see the personalities. It’s good growth.’’
Speaking of trash talking
While Haeg barely returned fire when informed of Graham’s comments, he made it clear he isn’t averse to trash talking. There’s usually a good bit of that whenever he and Wentz hook up.
Haeg and Wentz were a center-quarterback tandem at small-college powerhouse North Dakota State. The Colts selected Haeg in the fifth-round of the 2016 draft while the Eagles made Wentz the second-overall pick that year.
They spent a portion of Wednesday evening exchanging playful texts.
“We were just talking about random stuff,’’ Haeg said. “He says, ‘I hope you lose.’ I said, ‘I hope we score more points than you’ instead of saying ‘I hope you lose.’
“It’s just fun banter between us and I’m sure I’ll see him after the game.’’
As it turns out, Haeg didn’t share with Wentz what was really on his mind.
“Obviously I want him to lose, maybe throw a couple of picks,’’ Haeg said with a smile.
Wentz will be making his first start of the season after suffering a season-ending knee injury in December.
“He’s a star athlete, a future star in the NFL,’’ Haeg said.