INDIANAPOLIS – So many factors conspired against Bernhard Raimann as he headed into his first NFL start.
It would occur:
- In one of the most challenging venues for an offensive lineman: Denver’s deafening Empower Field at Mile High.
- Against a Broncos’ pass rush that featured top-tier pass rushers in Bradley Chubb and Baron Browning.
- On a Thursday night national stage.
- As the Colts were blowing up their starting offensive line on a short week.
- As Raimann was getting past a left ankle injury that had him inactive for the week 3 win over Kansas City and limited to four special-teams snaps the following week against Tennessee.
The team’s message to their 3rd-round draft pick? Deal with it.
“That’s the only way to get experience,’’ veteran right tackle Braden Smith said Wednesday. “You get out there and do it.
“It’s not an easy situation to be in. Prime-time game, silent cadence. It’s definitely a challenge, but I thought he handled it well.’’
Perhaps it’s more accurate to say Raimann survived his first start, and joined an exclusive fraternity in the process. He became just the fifth Colts’ rookie to start a game at left tackle since at least 1988, joining Anthony Castonzo, Tony Ugoh, Makoa Freitas and Adam Meadows.
“Definitely had a rough start,’’ Raimann said. “I made a lot of mistakes, and there’s a lot of things to learn from. Just things I really need to work on this week. In pass protection, just staying on my angle and not opening up too soon.’’
That’s because the Colts have determined their projected left tackle of the future – that was the long-term view when they selected him with the 77th overall pick in the April draft – is their left tackle of the present.
The decision to replace struggling Matt Pryor with Raimann wasn’t a temporary personnel move.
“Right now I’d be willing to tell you we think he’s going to be our left tackle,’’ Frank Reich said of Raimann. “He did some good things (at Denver). I know there were some calls and some stuff, but that’s just going to be part of the process.
“We feel he was a good pick. We feel he’s got a lot of upside.’’
Some of the “stuff’’ Raimann dealt with at Denver unfolded in front of a massive national audience. He was flagged three times for holding – one was declined – and once for a false start. The three holding penalties were the most by an offensive tackle this season.
And those were in the game’s first 28 minutes.
On several occasions, Raimann held up in pass protection. But he also struggled at times with the speed, power and versatility of Chubb and Browning.
“That’s a very good defense, very good pass rush, and he was thrown into the fire,’’ said offensive coordinator Marcus Brady. “I thought he battled, competed, and you saw some good things there that he can build off.
“Did he get beat? Yes, but we kind of knew that was going to be an issue.’’
There were times the protection scheme gave Raimann help with a tight end or a running back to his side. And there were times he was left on the proverbial island. He didn’t give up one of Denver’s six sacks but was credited with allowing five pressures on 48 pass-blocking snaps.
Here’s where we remind everyone Raimann remains a work in progress.
The native of Steinbrunn, Austria played one year of high school football in Delton, Mich. as an exchange student and spent his first two seasons at Central Michigan as a tight end before switching to offensive tackle. He started 18 games his final two seasons at left tackle.
The Colts have eased Raimann into the offensive line mix, giving him a few series in the first two games at Houston (16 snaps) and at Jacksonville (15 snaps). An ankle injury against the Jaguars slowed his development, but the coaching staff decided he was the best option at left tackle against Denver, and beyond.
“There’s going to be growing pains, but we just think he has the makeup, he has the talent,’’ Reich said. “We like what we have seen so far.
“We understand like a lot of our young players, it’s a process. I think these guys – like Alec (Pierce) and you look at Jelani (Woods) – they get better fast the more they play.
“You’ve got to play. We’re going to put them in there and play them. We feel (Raimann is) going to play winning football.’’
Added Brady: “You have to allow these players to develop, and they are only going to develop with experience . . . You understand they are going to make mistakes, but they are going to get better.
“We know that two to three weeks from now he’s going to be a better player than what he’s showing, but in order for him to get where we want him to be, he’s got to go through those reps.’’
Raimann admitted the ankle injury set him back.
“Not being able to play the previous two weeks kind of slowed me down, but I picked that back up,’’ he said. “Now back to practicing with the team and getting used to the speed again. That will definitely help.
“It was just a rough start. I had to get used to it again.’’
Despite the difficult moments at Denver, Raimann never allowed frustration to overwhelm him.
“Obviously it’s extremely frustrating,’’ he said, “but you’ve just got to put your own frustrations in the backseat. At the end of the day, it’s about the team. Getting frustrated during the game about your mistakes is not going to help the team.’’
Raimann and the entire offensive line must tighten things up for Sunday’s rematch with Jacksonville in Lucas Oil Stadium.
In week 2, the Jaguars overwhelmed the Colts 24-0 and dominated Matt Ryan’s protection. They hit him 11 times and generated five sacks.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.