WESTFIELD, Ind. — Throughout the 2018 offseason, we've heard Indianapolis Colts offensive linemen talk about having an emphasis on toughness and physicality.
After the first padded training camp practice on Saturday, you could see it coming to fruition. During 1-on-1 drills pitting the offensive and defensive lines against each other, you could tell the Colts' interior offensive line was a stout group.
Veteran guard Matt Slauson spoke with the media on Sunday and elaborated on that effort, as well as the topic of rookie Quenton Nelson.
The Colts have a few young linemen in Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith who will be relied upon to anchor the unit for years to come. Being the No. 6-overall pick in the draft, many people's focus is on Nelson and his impact on the Colts' line.
"It's very obvious he's a well-coached player coming out of college," Slauson said of Nelson. "I think (Harry) Hiestand was his (position) coach.
"He's (Nelson) got very impressive physical tools. Big-bodied guy, wide body. Huge back and shoulders and chest. He just brings a lot of power, but then also you've got his young, bulldog tenacity — that's a lot of fun to watch."
That "bulldog tenacity" that Slauson mentioned is one of the things that endeared people to Nelson so much as a prospect. Yes, he's got physical talent, but he also has that mean streak. You can't be a successful NFL lineman without at least a little bit of aggression to your game.
While Slauson acknowledged "I don't have a lot of the athletic tools that (Nelson's) got," he did say that he wants to help the rookie in his development as a fellow big-bodied guy who also likes to bring nastiness.
"What I'm gonna try and do with him is just help him grow in the game as fast as he can," Slauson said. "Because there's a lot of things that happen in the trenches, and the more I can kind of speed him up in that, the better off we're going to be as a group."
The desire to overpower opponents is another thing that turned Slauson on to the idea of signing with the Colts this spring.
"I liked the direction they were going... Obviously you get a chance to play with a quarterback like Andrew (Luck), that always makes things a lot easier," he said. "But I think being part of — I don't want to say a rebuild 'cause it's not really a rebuild of the offensive line — but kind of a mentality shift of an O-line… Anytime I can have an opportunity for that, I'm excited for it."
Nelson earned a lot of attention during the Scouting Combine when he said that he likes to take an opponent's will away throughout a game. Slauson echoed that on Sunday when asked about the nastiness that Nelson and Kelly have mentioned.
"That's always the goal is being a physical group together. Especially on the inside — the more mauler mentality you can have, it's just gonna open a lot of things up," Slauson said. "It'll make a lot of things easier on Andrew, on the backs, and it's a heck of a lot more fun because this is a hard game, and part of the fun of it is taking somebody's will play after play after play. And that's something we're gonna continue to build on and grow on."
Oftentimes when you think of a physical, nasty offensive line, they play through the whistle, they are sometimes involved in scuffles against opponents, and above all else, they protect their teammates from what they perceive as dirty plays.
During Sunday's night practice, a defender had a rather rough hit against rookie running back Nyheim Hines. Slauson was having none of it, getting in the defender's face and starting a bit of a tangle, and eventually everyone on the field found themselves in a little scrum.
Colts.com asked Slauson specifically about making sure defenses know that they won't tolerate any extracurricular activity against Luck, especially, as he returns from his shoulder rehab:
"Well, the goal is to never have any hands on him at any time. The defense knows, the defense is smart. They know how important Andrew is to us, but we're gonna do our absolute best to have that situation never come up."
And that goes for opponents as well?