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Colts Wednesday Mailbag: Offensive Line Questions Come In Bulk This Week

Intro: This Wednesday, mailbag readers inquire about just how the offensive line group might unfold in 2016, Frank Gore’s role in his second season with the Colts and the outside linebacker personnel this year.

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INDIANAPOLIS – Each week, readers of Colts.com can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Wednesday or Saturday mailbag.

Here is the collection of Wednesday questions:Anthony A. (New Jersey)

The Colts have Army all time sack leader on their roster in Josh McNary, but in the last couple of years they have yet to let him put his hand in the ground and Do what he did best in his collegiate career . That diamond in the rough pass rusher might already be here. what do you think?.. Also, has there been any news on training camp dates up at Anderson University I'm looking to take a trip out from New Jersey to see the boys get ready to rock. Thanks

Bowen: Anthony, nice recall on Josh McNary. The Colts have kept McNary at inside linebacker ever since his arrival at Training Camp in 2013. McNary's size (6-0, 251) doesn't really indicate a 3-4 edge guy in the NFL. The Colts have chosen instead to move Earl Okine (6-6, 290) to that position. With not a ton of proven depth at inside linebacker, McNary is/could still be needed there. At Tuesday's OTA practice, McNary was still playing inside linebacker. Specific Training Camp dates should come in June. Look for the team to report around the date of July 24.

Stan C. (Minneapolis, MN)

Hey Kevin! With finals ending I hope to pick your brain a bit more this summer. I know we're a long way off, but I have a question regarding the transition to the 53 man roster. Specifically, with regard to the offensive line.

I've warmed up more to the Colts' draft. Grigson has always loved positional versatility along both lines, which will pay off this offseason. We can reliably expect Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, and Ryan Kelly to start at LT, LG, and C, respectively. Starters at RG and RT will likely be an open competition, with the best overall players earning spots (Joe Reitz likely earning one of them). The rest of the players have the potential to be swing tackles, RT/G combos, or C/G combos to fill out the backup spots. However, when you start to look at the numbers, things get interesting.

Most teams carry 9, maybe 8 offensive linemen on their 53 man roster. The Colts, however, look like they would love to have 10... Castonzo, Mewhort, and Kelly being starting locks, Jonotthan Harrison and Austin Blythe challenging as backup center/guards, Joe Reitz, Denzelle Good, and Le'Raven Clark fighting for RT and guard spots, a slimmed-down Hugh Thornton hoping to secure starting RG, and Joe Haeg as backup LT/swing tackle (imagine a weaker/smaller version of Joe Reitz, but more suited to LT). Their WR and DB groups are extremely thin, offering them the chance to trim down to 5 receivers or (more likely) 9 DB's instead of the usual 6 and 10 in order to experiment with their many young OL prospects. What do you think are the chances the Colts carry 10 linemen into week 1? If not, I'm guessing the odd man out will be either the loser of the Blythe-Harrison battle or Thornton, should his new physique fail to beat out the very crowded field on the right side of the line.

Bowen: Stan, welcome back. I think nine is the magic number for the offensive linemen on the 53-man roster. You are spot on in that position flex is going to play a major, major part in who rounds out that group (especially who dresses on game days). You have a good grasp of what I'm thinking for this line group. If these guys don't start (Austin Blythe, Jonotthan Harrison and Hugh Thornton), they will likely need to show position flex to find room on the roster. Blythe and Harrison have the advantage of playing center almost assuring one of them to be on the roster as Ryan Kelly's backup. Now, can they also prove themselves at guard to help their chances? With Thornton, he's always been a guard, without the same sort of interchangeability to slide over to center. Another aspect to remember for this bunch is can the Colts maybe sneak Blythe on the practice squad? Again, I just can't see 10 linemen making the 53-man roster with the inevitable injuries that will occur. This time last year I don't think the mailbag was getting too many "number crunching" questions about the offensive line. What a difference a draft makes.

Paul M. (Pittston, PA)

Hey Kevin, love the Kelly pick. With that said, do you think the Colts did enough to shore up the o-line?

Bowen: You will see a trend in this week's mailbag. Fans love talking about the offensive line. I do think what the Colts have done this offseason has significantly upgraded that unit. You added Joe Philbin and have given him some young prospects to grow and develop. If Anthony Castonzo can stay healthy and provide the needed stability on the left side that will allow the Colts to keep guys in their comfort spots across the line. The Colts now have stable depth for the long-term, too.

Carac C. (Indianapolis)

Hi kevin, I was wondering about la'raven clark. I saw that you would bet that hugh thornton and joe reitz will be playing the right side of the o line, but if joe could stay healthy like ac has been then clark wouldn't see the field. Thats a big if, but do you think that could be a wasted pick considering if reitz stays healthy he wont have the opportunity to prove himself in the nfl?

Bowen: The biggest adjustment for Le'Raven Clark is something more and more linemen will have to make nowadays in the game of football. At Texas Tech, Clark played in a spread offense, meaning he lined up in a two-point stance almost exclusively. In the NFL, Clark is going to have his hand in the ground much more. Just because Clark might not start from Day One, doesn't mean this is a "wasted pick." Joe Reitz is 30 years old. He's not going to be playing the game forever. If Clark shows he can play starting football in Training Camp and the preseason, he's going to find his way onto the football field soon.

Ignatius H. (Plains, GA)

Hi Kevin! So, I was reading this Hall of Fame Induction piece from Ray Guy, and when he was interviewed, he said that his induction meant that the Hall of Fame had a full NFL team. This led me to browse a little through the inductees list, and I found something: No Long Snapper has ever been inducted. I have very good memories of Justin Snow leading the team into Lucas Oil, and Matt Overton himself hasn't made a single mistake when snapping in his 4-year career. Do you think a LS will ever get in? Thanks!

Bowen: "Ever" is a very long time. But I don't think it will happen anytime soon. With a kicker like Adam Vinatieri you have a guy who's made two game-winning field goals in Super Bowls and there's still some people who question his candidacy. In my opinion, it's nearly impossible for a long snapper (not playing any other position) to make enough of an impact, outside of just proper execution.

Isak H. (Mexico City)

God day, Kevin. After the draft, I find the OL very intriguing. I would think Castonzo, Mewhort and Kelly will start Day 1. On the right side, I guess we'll see Joe Reitz at OG and Denzelle Good at OT. Backups would probably be La'Raven Clark, Joe Haeg, Austin Blythe and one more guy. I would like to know two things:

1- Who would you project as that ninth lineman?

2- How have Kelly and Blythe gotten along so far?

Thanks.

Bowen: Under your scenario, Jonotthan Harrison and Hugh Thornton are two guys who would be in the running for that ninth spot. If Harrison proves he can play guard, that makes him a nice commodity when trying to have guys play multiple spots in backup roles. A slimmed down Thornton is going to have a chance to prove himself to new line coach Joe Philbin. Mentally, the Colts really like what they have in those two rookie centers. Their credentials from college are very, very impressive. Physically, we won't know exactly how those two will hold up until Training Camp and the full pads come on.

Sammy W. (Ohio)

Big fan of your writing. I'm trying to get excited about the defense but I keep seeing like there are too many unknowns. I feel like a lot of things have to be perfect for the D to be good. What are your thoughts on the state of the Colt's D as a unit. Thanks

Bowen: Sammy, I appreciate that. When we talk about the defense, let's start with the pressure necessary. It's one of the first things new coordinator Ted Monachino mentions when talking about his side of the ball. How can the defense build off the pressure they created to end last season? That's atop the priority list in 2016. The two positions I will be watching are Patrick Robinson at cornerback and the starting competition at inside linebacker. If Robinson can provide stability opposite Vontae Davis, that's going to strengthen this unit on multiple levels. Then at inside linebacker, who emerges to start next to D'Qwell Jackson? The health of the defensive line group (Arthur Jones and Henry Anderson) will also be very key for this unit in 2016.

Robin C. (Indianapolis)

Probably the most important aspect of both the teams and the players success is to keep free from injuries. In the mini camps does the team address this and are there ways that can help avoid these crippling leg injuries.

Bowen: What takes place during this part of the offseason program is very light (compared to a game setting). No full pads. No hitting. This week started guys in helmets and shorts actually going through offense/defense drills. Before that was just individual work. The Colts also have a new strength staff this year and the hope is such a program will help avoid some of those nagging injuries.

Jim N. (Tennessee)

I am not a very knowledgeable fan but I'm curious - are there specific offensive line drills used to improve pass protection and some that are looked at as hole-opening drills for the running game? If so, especially early on, which drills are getting the most time?

Bowen: Yes, there are specific drills for each phase of the run game. Jim, we've only had one "open" practice media session in the offseason program so it's hard to know what the focus has been on for Joe Philbin. The new line coach did mention that the drilling of fundamentals has been high priority for him this offseason before the Colts' line really picks up things from a physicality standpoint in Training Camp.

Leonardo B. (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Hi Kevin. What are the odds of a drafted rookie don't make the 53 roster? Hás it happened recently with any Colts draftee? Can this happen this year with one of the four OL we drafted? Regards.

Bowen: It could definitely happen. You have cases in virtually every draft class that don't pan out to make the 53-man roster. We've had a lot of recent questions about the Colts carrying all four rookie offensive linemen on their active roster. The team could do it with a total of nine offensive linemen being the typical amount teams carry on their roster. Of course, don't forget about the practice squad. That's typically where the Colts have tried to stash their recent late-round picks. It wouldn't surprise me at all if that happened this year with either of the Colts seventh-round draftees.

Jeremy S. (Rochester, IN)

Hello,Kevin

Great job with the Colts mailbag, we all appreciate it.This is first time submitting a question so having said that here it is.Why is it that every year on Thursday night football we are on the road? The only time I can remember was when NFL had to give us one because we won the super bowl the year before which we crushed the Saints that night.

Thank you for reading.

Bowen: Thanks, Jeremy. My pleasure. I think several Colts fans have wondered the same thing. It's just a weird scheduling quirk. Of 11 Thursday games for the Colts, nine of them have been on the road. The Colts will be at home this year for their Thursday night game. They will play the Steelers on Thanksgiving (November 24) at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Bryce H. (Madison, IN)

The changes to the coaching staff are really reassuring to me personally. I think we gain a better ability to adjust during games and get quality play from younger players on the roster. I also agree with you on joe reitz starting the season at right tackle though I'd like to see Austin Blythe start at right guard because I believe he has a higher ceiling at the position. I think that he and Ryan Kelly can communicate blitzes and audibles better. Do you think this years oline draft is pro ready enough to challenge for the right guard and right tackle position by the midway point in the season.

Bowen: Great question, Bryce. I get into this a little bit below but the development period for the rookie linemen is going to be key to see if they can factor into the starting competition. Ryan Grigson spoke on this subject earlier. A reason why Blythe fell in the draft is because there was some concern on if his frame can last in the NFL trenches. When you first see Blythe, you notice the wrestling body on him and where his athleticism comes into play. We will see what an NFL weight room will do to his body. For Le'Raven Clark, the Colts have talked about the development period that will be needed. He's a guy that played in a spread offense in college so there's a learning curve to now putting your hand in the ground. Joe Haeg will take a big jump up in competition. I don't know if these guys will be pro ready from Day One. That can be a lot to ask. Only three rookie linemen started all 16 games last year in the NFL. If the Colts can count on Joe Reitz, Denzelle Good and Hugh Thornton, then that allows them to be more patient with their four-man draft class up front.

Luke R. (Rochester, NY)

Hey Kevin,

With the additions of Le'Raven Clark, Ryan Kelly, even Joe Haeg to bolster the Colts offensive line, Andrew Luck's 2016 season should be fun to watch. However, the area I'm most interested in, is the Colts' RB's. With all of the additions, how will the Colts running game look like?

Bowen: Frank Gore is still the lead guy, and rightfully so. Gore's durability and production is rather unmatched in today's NFL. The Colts will once again lean on the recently turned 33-year-old runner. Your first backup will likely be Robert Turbin, who brings some power and speed as a three-down option. Jordan Todman should also factor in, while also providing special teams ability. The intriguing aspect of this year's run game could come at the backend of the group. Do the Colts look for a shiftier sort of back to round out the position? They have guys with those sorts of traits in Trey Williams and Josh Ferguson.

Reuben P. (Dallas)

Hello,

I had a couple questions for you.

  1. Do you think Henry Anderson can come back and be a playmaker first game of this season like he was before being injured in the Bronco game or do you think it will take a full year for him to return to form like Mathis did from his injury?
  1. Do you foresee having a offensive line mostly full of rookies going through tough issues throughout the season due to having no experience handling pro defenses?
  1. If multiple UFA OLBs shine in the off season & preseason do you think the Colts would cut some vets like Cole, Sio, or Irving ect. To make room for younger pass rushers? I would only write Mathis & Walden names in pen as far as OLB.

Thank You

Bowen: 1. This is one of the biggest questions on the defensive side of the ball in the offseason. Anderson tore his ACL in early November so it's going to be a quick recovery for him to be ready Week One. With guys like Robert Mathis (Achilles) and Nate Irving (ACL) it does often take more than a year to get back to complete health. There are some exceptions and the Colts obviously hope Anderson is one of those. 2. I don't think the Colts are going to have too many rookies in their starting offensive line. Yes, Ryan Kelly is the center. But it's going to be a lot to ask a Le'Raven Clark or Joe Haeg to start from Day One. I think the Colts have enough depth (Joe Reitz, Denzelle Good and Hugh Thornton) to allow those rookies to develop a bit as they make their respective transitions to the professional game. 3. Those young undrafted guys would have to really, really impress. Just from a pure bodies standpoint, the Colts have only three guys who have logged "outside linebacker" snaps in the NFL. I think the more likely scenario is to have a young edge guy or two on the practice squad with Robert Mathis, Trent Cole and Erik Walden all entering contract years this season.

C N. (Orange County, CA)

Kevin,

Chud really got the Colts offense going in his lone performance with Andrew Luck. With Luck back, a bolstered offensive line, and a full offseason to prepare, will we see a more west coast like offensive scheme to keep 12 healthy? Esp with speedsters in Dorsett and Hilton who can obviously make plays. That would open up the deep threat as well. Watching the Cardinals offense is an impressive thing how well their balance is. I hope the Colts can evolve into that kind of offense or revert back to those 2014 numbers. Just a thought.

Thanks for replying!

Bowen: I think when people hear the term "west coast" they think of a more underneath focus to the passing game. Chud mentioned last week how things are going to be player driven from an offensive standpoint. If the protection is there, Chud's not going to shy away from the deep ball. Not when you have the speed of T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Jacoby Brissett. That sort of speed at the receiver position is a major, major strength and Chud's not going to ignore that.

Evan S. (Indiana)

I was reading Kiper's article on ESPN about top undrafted free agents. I was surprised to see two Colts on the list, but it wasn't who I thought it would be. Those players were Josh Ferguson, which I totally agree with, and Arkansas State tight end Darion Griswold. I was expecting one of the pass rushers we signed after the draft. Here is Kiper's opinion on the tight end... "Brings a basketball skill set and length to the position, and the TE options are just OK here after Dwayne Allen." This was a head scratcher for me as the Colts recently signed Jack Doyle to a RFA tender with the team. I thought Doyle did a fantastic job a situational player last year. Do you think Griswold has a good shot at a 53-man spot? Would the Colts carry 3 tight ends again? (After Fleener departure) I thought the goal was to make Allen more of a factor in the passing game. Can never have too much talent at a position, I guess. I am definitely not against the move just a bit confused. Thanks for your input. #ColtsNation

Bowen: The Colts will almost assuredly carry three tight ends. Even if Rob Chudzinski's offense doesn't want to use as many multiple tight end sets, you still need backups for short yardage/special teams situations. Jack Doyle is Dwayne Allen's backup. You are right in that Doyle fills multiple roles and is a favorite of this coaching staff. However, you still need some depth. I fully expect the Colts to have (at least) three tight ends on this roster come Week One. Allen is going to have an expanded role. Doyle's playing time could rise, too. You still need a third guy for depth purposes. Both Mo Alie-Cox and Darion Griswold had some flashes during Tuesday's open OTA practice.

Joey K. (New York)

2 questions focused on the D Line

How much can we realistically expect from Art Jones after not playing for 2 seasons? Also could the 4th round DT push for a starting role? I know parry was solid,but he's not your typical DT

Bowen: Chuck Pagano said on Tuesday that he hopes to have Arthur Jones back for the start of Training Camp. He was not participating during Tuesday's open OTA session. If Jones can return to health, he's going to fill a role along the defensive front. The numbers back up what sort of impact Jones makes when he is on the field. Unfortunately we just don't know what percentage he will be at come Week One. David Parry is the starting nose tackle. Hassan Ridgeway, the team's fourth-round pick from Texas, can play all over the line but I'm not sure he's a starting nose tackle from Day One. The Colts are going to rotate guys frequently up front, but I expect Parry to be the starter. Ridgeway is a guy who is going to play, possibly filling an interior pass rush role on passing downs.

Eli D. (Del Rey, CA)

Hi Kevin, Love the mailbags by the way. I have high expectations on our undrafted rookie Daniel Anthrop, I think he'll fit in with our offense really well especially as a slot receiver. As an opinion who should we keep an eye on out of the undrafted Rookie receivers? Thanks and Go Colts!

Bowen: I do think one of the undrafted wide receivers will have a great shot to find a spot on the 53-man roster. Iowa's Tevaun Smith and Cincinnati's MeKale McKay are two receivers I will be watching. Smith was Iowa's second-leading receiver on a Rose Bowl team last season. McKay stands 6-5, which is a frame the Colts could find a role for thanks to the speed already in place within the group.

Wyatt M. (League City, TX)

I read something about teams wearing color rush uniforms on the Thursday night games. Do you know if the Colts will be wearing different uniforms when they play the Steelers on Thanksgiving? Also, has Andrew Luck slimmed down? He looks like he's lost some weight.

Bowen: In case people haven't seen it, it sounds like the NFL will have teams wear their "color rush" jerseys on Thursday night games this season (we saw this last year with the Jaguars/Titans, the Rams/Bucs and the Bills/Jets). I'm not sure what the Colts jerseys will look like, although I'd assume blue. There's been no official announcement of what the jerseys will look like when the Colts host the Steelers this Thanksgiving. As far as Andrew Luck, he's still listed at 240 pounds on the roster. It's hard for me to really gauge his weight when I'm used to seeing him in full pads and we won't see that for a few more months.

Jacob H. (Fullerton, CA)

Kevin,

The offseason is starting to take its toll on me, I'm just so eager for the season to start and see how well this team can play. September cant come fast enough. I do have a question for you though, specifically about the mailbag. I was just wondering if there is any chance for expansion in these weekly Q&A articles, perhaps more than just two times a week? My friend is a Packer fan, and they have a similar Q&A article called 'AskVic' that comes out everyday except Sunday. Now I realize that is a lot of writing for you so I wont go so far to ask for everyday, but maybe a Monday mailbag to start? Would love to hear your thoughts on this and if it is a possibility?

Thank you

Bowen: Jacob, as much as I'd love to post them every day, I think we will stick with twice a week. I'd rather post two large volumes each week then maybe have a mailbag every day of just a couple of questions. Plus, we get a lot of repetitive questions so I can eliminate those throughout the two mailbags. Hopefully, the other content on Colts.com keeps you entertained early in the week until the first mailbag comes out on Wednesday.

Jeremy A. (Montgomery, AL)

I know the coaching staff and ultimately the beat writers can't specifically discuss what plans and/or schemes the Colts plan to employ this season, but when can we realistically expect to really see what they intend to do and how they plan to utilize their personnel? Also, fans and the talking heads alike have opined that we should go up tempo more often offensively. Will we finally get our wish this season?

Bowen: I think you will start to see more and more glimpses in the next few weeks. Of course Training Camp will be when the true installs begin with guys practicing in full pads. But the Colts are now in the second half of their offseason program. Team drills are now permitted. Fans should get their first look at the new offense/defense on Wednesday, June 8 at the open minicamp practice inside of Lucas Oil Stadium. The up-tempo aspect of the offense could certainly be in play. Ultimately, we just don't have a great grasp of what Chud is going to do because he had healthy personnel for just one game last season.

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