INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July upon us, and the start of training camp now within sight, it's time for the Indianapolis Colts' Burning Questions series.
We continue today with the offensive tackle position:
» Can Braden Smith make the leap to elite status in Year 3 at right tackle?
For a guy who entered the league as the Colts' right guard of the future just three years ago, Smith has done pretty well for himself in his transition to right tackle. In his rookie year in 2018, Smith was Pro Football Focus' third-highest-graded rookie offensive lineman, and last season, Smith ranked as PFF's fifth-best offensive lineman — at any position — in run blocking; among all offensive tackles, he was seventh in overall grade (79.8). Smith now can take an even bigger leap forward if he can continue improving on his pass blocking; while he was solid in that area last season — among all right tackles, PFF ranked him 12th in pass blocking grade (68.1) — Smith could possibly enter the Pro Bowl or even All-Pro ranks if he can become as dominant in pass protection off the edge as he is as a run blocker.
» Who takes over as the backup swing tackle now that Joe Haeg has signed elsewhere in free agency?
The Colts have one of the best starting offensive line units in the NFL; the fact all five starters were able to start every game together last season only helped solidify this point. But the team also knows injuries are just part of the game, especially for the big fellas up front, so general manager Chris Ballard has made it a priority to ensure the Colts have starting-level depth ready to go if and when they are needed. While the depth at the interior is pretty set in stone heading into training camp (Javon Patterson at center and Jake Eldrenkamp and Danny Pinter at guard, among others), there appears to be a wide-open competition for the depth at tackle behind starters Smith and Anthony Castonzo. The team has benefitted from a versatile guy like Joe Haeg in the past, who could play any of the five positions along the offensive line and was the Colts' primary swing tackle, but Haeg this offseason signed a free agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now, Le'Raven Clark, who re-signed with the Colts this offseason, will get every opportunity to become the key backup at tackle, but several others will also be vying for that job, including Andrew Donnal, Brandon Hitner, Cedrick Lang, Carter O'Donnell and Travis Vornkahl.
» Will Anthony Castonzo finally earn his first Pro Bowl selection?
Despite Castonzo being one of the league's more solid and consistent left tackles going on several years now, he had never sniffed being selected to the Pro Bowl — until last year. After perhaps his best-overall season in the NFL, Castonzo in 2019 was finally at least named a Pro Bowl alternate for the first time in his career. Now entering Year 10 with the Colts after signing a reported two-year contract extension earlier this offseason, Castonzo could very well earn an actual spot in the league's annual all-star contest with another standout performance. In 2019, PFF had him ranked as the ninth-best offensive lineman overall in the NFL, and the No. 2 left tackle, with a grade of 81.3; that'll be hard to ignore again.