INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts received plenty of kudos after drafting offensive guards Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith early in the 2018 NFL Draft this spring. However, the veterans they added to the offensive line this offseason are just as big of a deal in the short term.
One of those veterans the Colts signed was ninth-year tackle Austin Howard. And while the Colts have a few younger options for their starting right tackle spot, it was the veteran Howard that spent most of the offseason workout program working with the theoretical first-team offense at that spot.
Howard has started 89 games in his career (including playoffs), so he has been around the block a time or two.
Regardless, Howard knows his veteran status doesn’t solidify him a spot in the starting lineup come Week 1.
“I’ve been the guy for a few years now at right tackle. So, (I'm) looking to do that," Howard told reporters during mandatory minicamp last month. "Nothing is ever given; you have to earn it. That’s still the same here, as it will always be. It’s business as usual. I’ve got to go out there and perform well.”
But the fact Howard does have tons of experience at a wide-open position certainly made him an attractive free agent signing for first-year head coach Frank Reich.
“I mean he has played a lot of football – played a lot of good football. We haven’t had a long look at him, but I think he has done a good job," Reich said last month. "From when he came in on his visit to now, I think he’s really getting himself in shape and starting to look good physically. So we still have a little bit to go there, but this guy, he’s a pro. I mean he really is a pro. He gets it. He can assimilate into the offense very quickly and just needs to keep learning the finer details of what we are doing.”
Whether Howard earns a starting spot on the line or not, the coaches are looking for him and his fellow veterans like Matt Slauson and Anthony Castonzo to help lead the way and guide the younger guys like Nelson and Smith.
“Those guys have proven that over their career and they’re stepping up in their leadership role," Reich said. "(They’re) really setting the tone for us, not only as an offensive line, but really as an offense in general.”
Signing Howard was a valuable move by the Colts. On one hand, he may be their starting right tackle for 2018. If not, they have a mentor who can share almost a decade of experience.