INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts offensive line coach Chris Strausser recently sat down for a virtual 1-on-1 Colts.com interview. What are Strausser's thoughts on left tackle Anthony Castonzo's decision to return, the offensive line's work during an unusual offseason, rookie Danny Pinter and more?
Here is that entire conversation, which you can also catch in its entirety above:
Obviously we're meeting via Zoom during an unusual offseason. You've been around this league, this game, for a while — how has this offseason been for you? How have you handled everything in terms of the virtual format?
Strausser: "Yeah, it's been unique. I'm coming into my 32nd year coaching, and this is, by far, the longest stretch of time I've ever been away from the office. That's been challenging. I think anytime you face these situations of adversity, you try and think how do you make the best of it? We're fortunate to have such good leadership with Chris Ballard and Frank Reich. Not only what it started in the middle of March for us, but also this past week and a half, that they've been such tremendous leaders. Also the young men on our team have been really showing great leadership qualities. I just want to say that first and foremost, but with all that being said, I also think that this period, this offseason for us, we've had a chance to connect with guys a lot more than we typically would, because we're usually in such a hurry to get plays installed, to get out on the field, practice it, come back in, watch the film, and get ready for the next day. Then really, just be in a mode of just moving forward so much. We've had more time to connect with guys, and really sit in these meetings. Hey, I know we all want to get out on the field and do what we love to do — players, coaches alike — but I think we've done a pretty good job, really connected more than I think we ever have in the past."
Different positions get different value out of on-field work during the offseason program. Obviously the offensive linemen aren't wearing pads, so it's probably more of an ideal time to work on technique and fundamentals. What are the offensive linemen missing with no on-field work this offseason? And how much catching up needs to be done during training camp?
Strausser: "Well, I've got the tremendous benefit of having five returning starters that fundamentally know exactly what it is that I want. They're able to continue to work on that stuff in the offseason. Like everybody else, they've taken some videos, shared them back to me, and I've given them feedback. But the real challenge is the guys that I have not had a chance to work with yet before, whether it's a new free agent that's on our team or the rookies. There's going to be a lot of catch-up to do with those guys. I've tried to take advantage of the video as well with those guys, but it's not the same. I think there'll be some good challenges, whenever we do get back together on the field and really accelerating the curve, fundamentally."
You touched on your starters coming back, a key guy for you, Anthony Castonzo, entered the offseason considering the possibility of retirement. I'm sure you were thrilled to hear the news that he was coming back, however. What was your reaction, and what does Castonzo's presence mean to this group?
Strausser: "Oh, I was very excited to hear that he's decided to come back. Shoot, I left college football because I was done with recruiting, then yet once the season's done, I'm back into recruiting mode. I mean, I was sending him love letters every day, pretty much (laughs). That's not why he came back. He came back because he feels like he still has so much more to prove. He loves the guys that he plays with, but with that being said, he's a tremendous piece for us. A guy that's coming into his 10th year in the NFL has great experience and knowledge of what it takes to win in this league. He's a leader in his own way. He's not the most vocal guy in our group. He's very, very focused on doing his job, but I think he's also taken a step in understanding that there's a lot of young guys that can benefit from his knowledge and his experience. He's a really key piece for us. I think everybody in our room was really excited to hear he's coming back."
I could go down the line and talk about every player; obviously Quenton Nelson has all his accolades, there's Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith, one of the top young right tackles in the league. But at center with Ryan Kelly, last year he earns his first Pro Bowl selection. What is his impact, both on the field and in the meeting room?
Strausser: "Yeah, (with) Quenton, let me just start there, his accolades are well-deserved. I'm so fortunate to coach a guy with that type of talent and his play style just speaks for itself, and it's unique. Then with Ryan Kelly, man, again, here's another guy we're so fortunate to have on our roster. It's not my job to say who the best center in the NFL is, but I know he's the best guy for us, and we're darn lucky to have him. Not only is he a super intelligent person and football player, but his work ethic is unmatched. He's a grinder, he comes prepared and physically he's got tremendous talents. His size is elite for a center. There's very few guys that are 6-5, and whatever he is now, maybe 310 pounds, and move as well as he does. He's got a great skillset. I just think he's been banging away. He's fought some injuries, which a lot of guys in the NFL have, but I think he's come out on the other end and he understands how important it is to keep his body fresh and continue to work on his body, to make sure that he can make it through a season like he did last year. I know it makes a big difference for the Colts to have him in there. Really, really fortunate to have him in our group."
In the fifth round of this year's draft, the Colts took Danny Pinter out of Ball State, who projects as a guard right now, Chris Ballard said. He's relatively new to the offensive line in general after starting his college career as a tight end and then moving over to right tackle. When you threw on Pinter's tape, what did you see, why does he project at guard for now, and how excited are you to get your hands on him when you are able to get on the field?
Strausser: "Well, I say (he) projects as an inside player. Certainly the guard spot, but also, we plan on giving him a chance to work at center and be prepared to play at center. I think anytime you're not a starter in this NFL, the more versatility you have, the better off you're going to be. I know what he wants to be as a starter, but he's not going to come into fall camp, with five returning starters in front of him, that's not how he's coming into training camp. He'll work on all three of those spots — inside both guard spots and the center spot. But I think what we are so attracted with, in terms of Danny, is his traits, just how hard he works. He's a grinder. He continues to get better. Like you said, he's played offensive line for two years, but continues to improve. And everybody you'd talk to in the Ball State program, everybody goes back to that same thing: he will get it figured out and he will get it done at some point, because that's how hard he works. I've been really impressed in the meetings and that's all we have right now. I wish I could tell you that I've seen other stuff out in the field that excites me, but I haven't had a chance to. But in the meetings, he's been elite, he's worked very hard. He's mastered more of this offense than I would have expected up to this point. Really at the end of the day, the best way to learn an offense is to go out and practice, which is why we do it that way. But for what we've had, which has been Zoom meetings and me talking to them a lot, and in video, he's done a tremendous job and really has shown that he does have that skillset to be a great learner, which is so important for us. But, you just watch the effort that he plays with on film, and it's impressive."
Pinter will be a part of your depth coming into the season, joining Jake Eldrenkamp, LeRaven Clark and perhaps Javon Patterson, the 2018 draft pick who suffered a season-ending injury last offseason. But looking at the tackle position, specifically, do you have enough depth there? Is it one of those things you can only really know once you get on the field?
Strausser: "Well, we need to. That's a huge, huge equation for us right now in the offensive line room, is to build our depth and to have a sixth, seventh and eighth spot that we feel can help us win a championship. I'm excited about the guys that I have there, but just like you said, until I get on the field with them, a guy like Chaz Green, I have had a chance to study some of what he's done in the past. There's a lot of good things that I'm excited about that I've seen. He's been tremendous in our meetings as well, but I don't know 'til I get a chance to get out there and coach him. Then obviously with LeRaven, have been around him for years, so I pretty much know what I got there, obviously expect him to take another step, like all our guys in our room. But we do have a lot of guys at that tackle spot, that, really, until we get a chance to get out there and put them on field, see them compete and really see what they can do, it's a little bit of a guessing game."