INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July upon us, and training camp right around the corner, it's time for the Indianapolis Colts' Burning Questions series.
We continue today with the guard position:
• Will Quenton Nelson live up to the hype?
Guards just aren't typically taken with the No. 6-overall pick in the NFL Draft. Then again, not all guards are Quenton Nelson.
Considered by many to be one of the best offensive line prospects, period, to enter the NFL in years — regardless of position — Nelson has, to this point, lived up to the billing after being inserted in as the starting left guard with the Colts' offense from the first day he arrived in Indy.
There's been no reason to believe Nelson won't be the player the Colts — and many scouts across the league — think he can be, with All-Pro potential and a nasty streak just not found in every player. But that doesn't mean Nelson isn't prone to making a few rookie mistakes from time to time, either — he is human, after all — but head coach Frank Reich has liked what he's seen out of his first-round pick so far.
"You can see the instincts," Reich said. "You can see (when) we're pulling and when we run some of our gap-scheme runs where he's doing pulling. One of the things on tape everybody said, 'This guy is the best pulling guard, ever.' You can see that, man. It just shows up all over the tape."
• Can Braden Smith eventually challenge for a starting job?
At the other guard position, the Colts have been very happy with free agent acquisition Matt Slauson, who, at 32, still has plenty left in the tank but also isn't shy about showing the younger players the ropes.
But the Colts also used one of their four second-round picks in this year's NFL Draft on a player general manager Chris Ballard considered the last remaining starting-caliber rookie guard in Braden Smith.
Throughout the offseason workout program, Slauson was working with the first-team offensive line at right guard, while Smith was the second-team right guard — and there's nothing wrong with that.
But, eventually, one would imagine the Colts will want to see what Smith can do when thrown into the fire with the starting unit; could those opportunities start coming during training camp, or even the preseason?
The problem is Indy hasn't had continuity along its offensive line for years, so if the team feels at this point Slauson is its best option at right guard, then it might be difficult to break up the cohesion with the rest of the established starters up front.
Slauson, however, knows Smith is the future at the position, and will do everything he can to make sure that if and when the Colts decide to give the youngster a shot, he'll be ready to go.
That's what you call a veteran leader.
• What's the rest of the depth looking like at guard?
Just like at tackle, the Colts are looking at a much deeper guard position than they've had in years.
Beyond Nelson, Slauson and Smith, there are several other options the team could roll with on its regular season 53-man roster when that time comes. The versatile Joe Haeg has plenty of playing experience at both guard positions, as does Jack Mewhort, who was re-signed to a one-year deal this offseason as he works his way back from some knee issues. If Mewhort can get back to full strength, there's no reason to believe he can't make a strong case to become a starter once again.
But even beyond those five players are capable options, such as Jeremy Vujnovich, who played every single snap for the Colts at left guard last season, though he did not participate in the on-field portion of the team's offseason program due to an undisclosed injury.
Mark Glowinski and even Denzelle Good and Le'Raven Clark, who have primarily been used as tackles, are also options to keep in mind at guard during training camp and the preseason.