WESTFIELD, Ind. — When the Indianapolis Colts selected Braden Smith in the second round of this April’s draft after picking Quenton Nelson in the first, the assumption was that the team had their two starting guards of the future.
Halfway through the final week of training camp, however, the Colts may have inadvertently found their right tackle in Smith.
The Colts have dealt with some unfortunate injuries throughout camp thus far. Nothing believed to be serious, but guys like Anthony Castonzo, Denzelle Good, Austin Howard and Tyreek Burwell have all missed time, and all play offensive tackle. Then there was the retirement of veteran Jack Mewhort, who also was getting reps on the outside.
When you’ve got guys that are out, somebody has to step up and fill the void. Even though he did not see many, if any, reps at tackle during OTAs and minicamp — spending most of his time with the second unit at right guard — Smith is now thrust into the competition to be the team’s starting right tackle.
The Colts had the choice to either make lemonade or stay the course and continue giving Smith reps as the second-team guard. It's about a week into the project and head coach Frank Reich declared that Smith has progressed enough to be in the open competition at right tackle.
“I think he has good feet. He is smart and he understands the game,” Reich elaborated. “He’s shown an aptitude. Position versatility — it’s a little bit different. There are times that I can see — especially early on — that he hasn’t played out there much, but he is getting better.”
Although it is Smith getting the bulk of the first-team looks at right tackle, it is still an open competition, as Reich said. Once the likes of Castonzo, Good and Burwell return, it will give the flexibility to potentially see other players re-enter the mix.
For a guy who is used to change in front of him, quarterback Andrew Luck shrugged off any concern he could have about there not being a decided right tackle in place at this point of training camp.
“No, no, not at all. There’s a really deep group of offensive linemen,” Luck told reporters this week. “I’m very confident in a number of guys that are sort of rotating through that position that are able to get the job done.”
Being pointed out that Smith — who did make a couple starts at right tackle during his time at Auburn — is in that mix as a rookie, Luck confidently responded, “Great.”
The man at the center of the conversation, Smith, is taking it all in stride, meanwhile.
Seeing these first-team reps at right tackle, Smith was asked on Monday if he thinks about other teams at all yet and realizes that he may be matched up with a player like Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs as early as Friday during the Colts' first of two joint training camp practices at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield.
“Really, I’m just kind of focusing on myself,” Smith responded. “Because it don’t matter who’s gonna line up against me — I mean, it does — but at the same time it’s like as long as you do what you need to do, you’ll be successful.
“The time will come when we start breaking down film of other teams, but for right now we’re just kind of focusing on ourselves.”