INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Two attributes are paramount with the Indianapolis Colts: availability and accountability.
We give you the offensive line.
A season-long area of strength is on the verge of finishing on a positive note and joining elite company when the team wraps up an otherwise disappointing season Sunday at Jacksonville.
If left guard Quenton Nelson is cleared by an independent neurologist — there’s a good chance he passes that final phase of being in the NFL’s concussion protocol – the same five starters will line up for all 16 games.
“I guess we’re just a bunch of tough asses,’’ center Ryan Kelly said Friday.
They’ve certainly been durable. Kelly, Nelson, left tackle Anthony Castonzo, right guard Mark Glowinski and right tackle Braden Smith have been together for the first 15 games.
The last time the Colts started the same unit from start to finish was in 2000: left tackle Tarik Glenn, left guard Steve McKinney, center Jeff Saturday, right guard Larry Moore and right tackle Adam Meadows. The oddity of that accomplishment was it marked the third time in four seasons the team started the same group all season.
And not since.
“It’s rare that it happens just because injuries are 100 percent in the NFL,’’ said Kelly, who has missed a total of 54 plays shattered over three games with a burner and a minor knee issue.
Castonzo and Glowinski have been on the field for all 1,021 offensive snaps. Smith’s only missed snap came last week against Carolina when he had to come off the field for one play after he appeared to suffer a leg injury.
Nelson suffered the concussion against the Panthers and it ended his streak of not missing a snap due to injury at 2,254. He’s now been on the field for 2,254 of 2,286 snaps.
Since being selected with the 6th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, Nelson is the only Colt to start all 33 games, including the playoffs.
Not surprisingly, a byproduct of the continuity has been offensive productivity. Including this season – again, if it happens – the Colts will have had a 1,000-yard rusher in each season the line stayed intact: 2019 (Marlon Mack, 1,014), 2000 (Edgerrin James with a franchise record 1,709), ’99 (James with 1,663) and ’97 (Marshall Faulk, 1,054). James led the NFL in rushing in 1999-2000.
Pass protection also has been solid. The Colts have allowed 29 sacks this season, tied for 9th-fewest. Peyton Manning was sacked 20 times in 2000 and 14 times in ’99.
Since 2014, only three teams have featured offensive lines that started all 16 games: the 2018 Los Angeles Rams and 2016 Atlanta Falcons, both of whom lost in the Super Bowl, and the 2015 Minnesota Vikings, who lost in the wild-card round.
This would be a first for Frank Reich, whose NFL career as a player and coach spans nearly three decades.
“That’s rare,’’ he said. “That’s a credit to those guys. We talk about toughness. It starts up front . . . they take pride in it. They want to be there for each other.’’
For the offensive line to go wire-to-wire, Nelson must clear the final hurdle in the league’s concussion protocol. He was diagnosed with a concussion in last Sunday’s win over Carolina.
That seems likely. Nelson was limited in Thursday’s practice and wore a red non-contact jersey. He was a full participant Friday and had discarded the red jersey.
Nelson did not exit the Panthers game without an argument.
“After the game he was like, ‘They wouldn’t let me go back out there,’’’ Castonzo said with a smile. “He desperately wants to play. That’s just who he is. He’s a competitive guy. I’m sure there were some words exchanged.’’
Reich noted Nelson “is probably the kind of guy you have to protect from himself. Always wants to go back in there.
Nelson was listed questionable on Friday’s injury report.
More medical matters
Cornerback Quincy Wilson (shoulder) and running back Jordan Wilkins (ankle) have been ruled out of Sunday’s game. Defensive lineman Denico Autry (concussion) and safety Khari Willis (shoulder) are doubtful.
The team waived tight end Ross Travis.
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