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Joe Haeg Reflects On ‘Difficult’ But ‘Rewarding’ Rookie Season

Posted Mar 30, 2017

Intro: After being selected in the fifth round of last year’s NFL Draft, Joe Haeg ended up starting 14 games at three different positions along the offensive line his rookie year. How did he find such early success?

INDIANAPOLIS — Forty years down the road, when Joe Haeg tucks his grandchildren in at night, he’ll be able to reflect on a rookie season in which he started three positions along the offensive line for the Indianapolis Colts.

“First-round pick Kyle Turley 18 years prior to me was the only other player in recent memory that had accomplished that feat as a rookie,” Haeg can tell them.

Haeg joked about that future conversation this week when talking with Colts.com’s Matt Taylor, but the North Dakota State product said he came away from his first NFL season proud of his efforts, nonetheless.

“It was difficult,” Haeg said, “but it was also very rewarding, I think, being able to go out there and compete wherever I was needed.”

As Haeg went through his first training camp last year, it appeared the Colts were banking on a starting offensive line of Anthony Castonzo (left tackle), Jack Mewhort (left guard), Ryan Kelly (center), Denzelle Good (right guard) and Joe Reitz (right tackle) to gel throughout the rest of camp and into the preseason so that they could be at the top of their game entering the season opener against the Detroit Lions.

But as is often the case around the National Football League, it didn’t take long for injuries to affect those plans for Indianapolis and its offensive line coach, Joe Philbin. Before long, Mewhort, Good and Reitz each found themselves battling all kinds of nicks, bruises and pains.

But that’s not to say Haeg might not have eventually earned one of their spots, anyway.

With versatility being a major theme of Philbin’s teachings, Haeg worked hard to be an effective blocker at each position along the line, and made sure to take advantage of every rep at every position he got in practices throughout the week.

By the end of the season, he had established himself as a mainstay along an improving Colts’ offensive line, starting 14 games — six games each at right tackle and right guard and two starts at left guard — and possibly giving himself a leg up on the competition heading into his second season.

“It is a big change going from even right side to left side, but also guard to tackle, but it’s something that, when I was doing it throughout the week, practicing, even if I knew, ‘OK, you’re going to start at left guard this game,’ I was still getting right guard reps; I was still getting right tackle reps,” Haeg said. “And I think that was a huge part of it, just being able to learn the whole system and not just one specific position. I think that actually helped me, especially in the long run here, of knowing all these different positions, and it’s just something that’s a big tool to have.”

He certainly left a good impression on his offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski.

“You look at the games, and whether it has been going into the game and him having to prepare for multiple positions or during the course of the game and him having to move and play somewhere where he hasn’t practiced, I just think that says a lot about him and his ability, his mental toughness and his preparation to be able to do that during the course of the game,” Chudzinski said of Haeg late last season. “I have said it before: it is amazing for a young player and a rookie particularly. I have never seen that or really had to do that before this season.”

While Haeg is certainly happy to play anywhere along the line for the Colts, he was asked if he had a certain position in mind that he was aiming for heading into this offseason.

But to Haeg, it’s not at all about sticking to a certain position.

“I think that, you know, the main thing is even if I played a bunch of reps at right tackle, or a bunch of games in a row at right tackle, I would still be ready to move over because it doesn’t matter how comfortable, necessarily, I am, it’s more of who are the best five guys we can put out there on gameday to get the job done?” he said. “I mean, I’m ready to play wherever I need to. Absolutely, it would be nice to stick with one position. But injuries happen throughout the year, there’s always change, there’s always new faces in the locker room, and you have to be ready to adapt.

“But the main thing is we need to put the best five guys out there to give us the best chance to win every game.”




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