INDIANAPOLIS — In the simplest of terms, the Indianapolis Colts' starting offensive line had some struggles in the team's third preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
In all, Andrew Luck was hit on six of his 18 pass attempts in that game, and the NFL's highest-paid quarterback was sacked three times.
Many outside the team's facility wondered if the team's major issues up front from a season ago were going to rear their ugly head again once the 2016 regular season began.
But, inside the facility, those on the offensive line — as well as those coaching and evaluating them — never panicked.
With a couple weeks to watch the film and fix any issues in the meeting room and in practices, the line looked extremely sharp in the team's Week 1 matchup against the Detroit Lions. And although perennial NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller was still able to do his thing Week 2, the Colts' offensive front, for the most part, was able to keep it together against the Denver Broncos.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said he's been pleased overall with the play of the offensive linemen, which just needed time to gel as one unit.
"Collectively, the O-line, I think we're going in the right direction," Grigson said this week. "I definitely think that group is congealing and the cohesiveness is showing up in terms of the way that we adjusting to twists in the games, and the guys seem to be more on the same page than they have been in the past."
Other than a few tweaks here and there due to minor injuries, Indianapolis has trotted out the same offensive line since the beginning of training camp this year: Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Jack Mewhort at left guard, Ryan Kelly at center, Denzelle Good at right guard and Joe Reitz at right tackle.
The group certainly saw some scares early — most notably a knee injury to Mewhort in that third preseason game that at first was feared to be a season-ender — but, for the most part, the more reps they get in practices and in games together, the better they have been.
Against the Lions, Luck was sacked twice, but for the most part had a clean pocket to be able to deliver the best performance of his career — particularly in the second half of the game.
Highlights from the Colts first regular season game against the Lions.
Against the Broncos, Luck was hit 12 times and sacked five times, numbers no offensive line would hang its hat on. But considering four of those hits and three of those sacks came from Miller in a Herculean effort, then the rest of the snaps weren't too bad, head coach Chuck Pagano said.
"I thought those guys battled," Pagano said this week. "We know how good a team and how good a defense Denver has and they pose a lot of problems. They put a lot of stress on you in a lot of different ways. The rush is relentless but our guys battled and they played well. We had our moments obviously, and that's what we will go to work on, is trying to find a way to make sure that we can limit the amount of pressures and amount of hits."
Asked about the performance of Reitz, specifically, against the Broncos, Grigson said "there's some plays he wishes he had back" while matched up against Miller most of the game.
But Reitz is also playing through a painful back injury, so Grigson hopes that with more treatment and more time, the sixth-year veteran out of Western Michigan will only improve.
"He's out there fighting through that playing against the best defensive player, arguably, in the NFL, down in and down out," Grigson said. "So it's a battle, and I've played that spot, and when you're out there against an elite athlete like that, you know, he's going to get his. I mean, he's going to.
"In the NFL, the quarterback's going to get hit, there's going to be sacks," Grigson continued. "And those defensive players on the other side of the ball don't make the money they do because they're not great at what they do and they're not special athletes — they're special athletes."
Limiting those hits and those sacks, however, remains a key goal for the Colts' offensive line for the rest of the season.
"They've come along. You see the progress and you've seen the progress over the course of time," Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. "We certainly have a lot to work on and a lot to improve on, but you see some good signs and some encouraging things for the future up front."