INDIANAPOLIS – In 2012, the Colts started seven different offensive line units and never deployed the same lineup for more than three straight games.
Last season brought more of the same as Indianapolis had the same number of opening configurations, including a new starting unit in each of the last six outings.
Ryan Grigson termed the unit the “walking wounded” in his first year and likely felt much the same way in 2013 as nine different players were pressed into starting duty.
Three interior veterans – Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn, Jeff Linkenbach – have departed. Satele (24 starts) and McGlynn (29) were two-season battery mates at center and right guard, while Linkenbach (33) was a multi-positional contributor since 2010.
The interior of the line is creating the most conjecture from outsiders as the off-season program starts April 21.
One analytic website rated the Colts’ tackles as two of the best offensive performers, while estimating nearly 40 percent of 409 run calls were designed off tackle.
“I felt as a group we played pretty well for the most part,” said Cherilus, a 2013 UFA. “It was good to play all 18 games. That was a personal goal. The fact we (he and Anthony Castonzo) were healthy, on the field the whole time and made ourselves available to our teammates was huge.
“As a unit, I felt we got a lot better. That was extremely big for some of the young guys. We didn’t wish for the older guys not to be able to play every game, but the young plays played a lot and that will help us in the long run.”
Thomas departed after 71 plays last year, ensuring the Colts would play just more than one game with the intended starting lineup. Indianapolis had only four such games in 2012, meaning constant shuffling has been a true constant for the last two seasons.
Like a true pro, Cherilus bucked up.
“It was challenging. I played next to five guards, from Xavier Nixon to Mike McGlynn to Link (Jeff Linkenbach) to Joe Reitz, and I played next to Hugh Thornton in preseason,” said Cherilus. “It’s not easy. You want to play next to one guy.
“You want to get some chemistry with the guys you’re going to play next to for the whole year. We know that’s not the NFL today. Every team went through what we went through. You have to be professional enough not to let it be a problem.”
Indianapolis started the season with at least 25 rushes and a 4.5 average in four straight outings, a first in more than 30 years.
Six times the club did not crack 100 rushing yards, but that was influenced partly by opponents owning healthy ground averages (125.1; 4.5; eight games with 140-plus yards) and a mid-season lull when Indianapolis had significant first-half deficits.
Stability and continuity have been elusive entities while the team has posted consecutive 11-win seasons.
Indianapolis has ranked 22nd and tied for 20th in rushing the last two seasons, while its sacks allowed dropped from 41-to-32 in that span. The analytic site ranking Castonzo and Cherilus as top performers placed the Colts 30th with 109 quarterback hits.
“As professionals, it’s our job to put ourselves in good position and practice and prepare ourselves to the point where it doesn’t matter who they put next to us,” said Cherilus. “We have a job to do and we do it to the best of our ability.
“I was fortunate to play the whole season. We’re all part of the NFL, which is the most competitive game in all sports. When your number is called, you show up and do your part. Some of the young guys stepped up and helped us out. I can’t say anything but nice things about those guys.”
QUOTE-UNQUOTE (Ryan Grigson on the line):
“We feel pretty good where we are at. We signed Phil Costa. He’s a tough, young center. We drafted Khaled Holmes to be that center of the future. He never got a chance in camp really because of the ankle (injury). He’s still a little bit of an unknown. It’s going to be a good competition. (The Colts) had great success with (Jeff) Saturday who was a CFA. I’ve been to three Super Bowls with two teams and on those teams, all of those centers were CFAs. That’s a position where you can find a quality guy. You don’t always need to have a high profile player at that spot.”