INDIANAPOLIS — Complacency isn’t an option for the Indianapolis Colts in 2019.
Take the offensive line, for example. In one year, the group went from the worst in the league at allowing sacks (56 in 2017) to the best in the league in that category (18 in 2018).
What’s even better for this unit? With the recent re-signing of right guard Mark Glowinski, all five starters up front — Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Glowinski and Braden Smith — are set to return in 2019.
So, yes, there’s plenty to be excited about when evaluating the prospects for the Colts’ offensive line moving forward.
But what happens when one player up front goes down with an injury? Or what about two? Or even three?
If you’re a fan of the Colts, this is a scenario you know all too well. And in the past, the end result hasn’t been too great.
But Indianapolis certainly dealt with its fair share of injuries along the offensive line throughout 2018 and still had one of the top overall units in the league. The difference between the most recent season’s group and those that came before it, however, is an abundance of depth and talent at all five positions, and it’s something that general manager Chris Ballard has vowed to continue working on heading into this offseason.
“Is (the offensive line) set? Do I think we have winning players? Yes, I do,” Ballard said last week in an appearance on “The Dan Dakich Show” on 1070 The Fan. “(But) I say this all the time: I think you’ve got to go into the draft with 10 — not five, 10 — 10 that you know you can play with.”
Ballard has said his biggest regret for his first season as the Colts’ general manager in 2017 was not doing more to help the offensive line. So last offseason, he went out and used two of his first three draft picks on O-linemen (Nelson and Smith) and also utilized free agency to sign veteran guard Matt Slauson.
Then, with injuries affecting various positions throughout the preseason and the regular season, Ballard and his personnel staff would continue tweaking the offensive line room, bringing in guys like Josh Andrews and Evan Bohem at center and J’Marcus Webb at tackle to add to the likes of returners Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark as key pieces of depth up front.
Webb would end up earning the starting job at right tackle before suffering a season-ending injury in that Week 1 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, but Haeg (six starts), Bohem (four starts) and Clark (four starts) would prove to be worthy spot starters when needed throughout the season.
To further prove just how deep the Colts’ offensive line was in 2018, Smith (right tackle; Week 5) and Glowinski (right guard; Week 6) earned their starting jobs midseason due to injuries or other issues to those previously at their spots.
“I mean, look: injuries happen, things that you don’t anticipate happening,” Ballard said. “So (that’s why) you need to go in there with 10 (offensive linemen).”
Heading into this offseason, Slauson and Webb (unrestricted) and Boehm (restricted) are set to become free agents when the new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET March 13. And, at this point, the team is also expecting to have at least nine picks when the 2019 NFL Draft rolls around in late-April.
By the time training camp and the preseason rolls around in July and early-August, Ballard hopes to have made enough moves — whether it’s retaining players or adding new pieces — to be in better shape up front in 2019 and moving forward.
After all: complacency is not an option.
“I think we’ve still got work to do in that area, but, look, we’ve got some young (pieces),” Ballard said. “Evan Boehm, who we took off the practice squad in L.A., ended up playing pretty good; (Josh Andrews), who we took from Philly; you’ve still got Joe Haeg, who we really like, who can play all five spots on the line which makes him really valuable; you know, Le’Raven Clark’s kind of at a prove-it point, where he’s really gotta prove it this year going into (his) fourth year.
“So I think we’ve got a little bit of depth,” he continued. “We want to continue to add depth.”