INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts overhauled their offensive line this offseason, and it won't take them long to see their first real test.
The Cincinnati Bengals bring their fierce defensive line to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, led by All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
The biggest spotlight from this matchup will be that of Colts rookie and 2018 No. 6 overall draft pick Quenton Nelson against Atkins. The latter is widely regarded as one of the top defensive tackles in football while Nelson was one of the most highly-touted offensive linemen to come out of the college game in years.
Nelson knows he's going to have his work cut out for him in his NFL debut.
"(With) a guy like Geno Atkins, you've got to be perfect at everything going into the week and be at your best in every facet of your own game because you know he's going to be," Nelson said. "Going against him is a big challenge and it'll be a good test to see where I am and see where we are as an offensive line blocking this defensive line, because they're pretty talented."
Nelson at left guard is one thing the Colts can be sure of on Sunday. There is some outside uncertainly at other spots, however; although the coaching staff knows what it's going to do, we do not yet know who will be the team's right guard or tackle until closer to gametime.
There is also uncertainty regarding the availability of franchise left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who re-aggravated a hamstring about a week into training camp and missed the entire preseason.
Castonzo did make it back to practice this week, however, participating in a limited fashion on Wednesday and Thursday.
He told reporters this week he felt good following Wednesday's practice so they pushed forward on Thursday. Putting in another practice Friday would be good for his chances of suiting up Sunday, although he also said, "Basically, I've just got to be confident to go on Sunday."
Regardless of who is available and who is selected to start in unknown spots, there is a game to play against a very competitive defensive front.
Cincinnati has a diverse group of playmakers with Atkins providing interior pass rush, Andrew Billings clogging running lanes inside and then Carlos Dunlap, Carl Lawson, Michael Johnson and Jordan Willis being disruptive off the edges.
To Matt Slauson, the challenges that the Bengals' defensive front create are certainly worthy of the Colts' attention. But the veteran guard also stressed the importance of his teammates up front focusing on their own individual duties heading into the matchup — which is just the first of many the Colts will have against talented, aggressive defenses this season.
"As far as planning for a front like this, I mean, you look all over the league and just about every team has somebody special on it — at least one," Slauson told Colts.com. "That's just kind of the makeup of the league, so what I find what works for me is focusing on my own stuff. My own techniques, my own hands, my own steps and worry less about what these other guys are great at and more what I have to be great at."