Flexibility A Key For Colts' Offensive Linemen

Intro: If nothing else, the 2015 season taught the Indianapolis Colts the importance of having experienced players with the ability to take on multiple positions along the offensive line. That mindset has been a major theme so far during offseason workouts.

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 INDIANAPOLIS
-- The Colts have just one offensive lineman, Jack Mewhort, currently listed on their official roster at more than one position.

But for just about every lineman that walks through the doors at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, having the ability to play multiple positions up front isn't just a luxury — it's an expectation.

Those expectations were brought into practice down the stretch last season, when injuries opened the door for several different offensive linemen to get snaps at either the tackle, guard or center positions.

But that versatile mindset is being hammered home even more now. With Phase 2 of offseason workouts underway, new offensive line coach Joe Philbin can rotate linemen in and out on the practice field, giving each player an added comfort should their number be called in any situation when the games start counting again in September.

"I feel good about it," Mewhort, who is currently listed as a tackle/guard on the official roster, said of his position flexibility. "I have tape at right tackle, I have a little bit of experience at center and, obviously, a lot of guard snaps. So I think it's always good to be flexible, and obviously you mentioned we've got a lot of guys that can do that now, so I think it'll be beneficial for the room."

Indianapolis currently has 14 offensive linemen on its roster, and another, tackle Le'Raven Clark, is an unsigned 2016 draft pick. While it can be a lot of moving parts during workouts, Joe Reitz, currently listed as a tackle, said the Colts' "cross training" of offensive linemen will no doubt pay off down the road.

"You never know," Reitz said. "Unfortunately, injuries always seem to happen during the season, and if you've played and you've had reps at certain positions next to certain guys, that makes it definitely easier when you step out on the field."

As things currently stand, the Colts will likely enter the 2016 season with sure starters at the left tackle (Anthony Castonzo) and left guard positions (Mewhort), and the team used a first-round pick this year on Alabama's Ryan Kelly, who likely projects to be the starter at center if he proves he can handle the load as a rookie.

For the rest of the linemen, however, there's starting jobs up for grabs, and they'll do anything it takes to earn one of those spots.

"I'm most comfortable at center, but if they want me to play guard, I'm willing to play guard; if they need me to be a swing-sixth guy, I'm willing to do whatever it takes," said Jonotthan Harrison, who has started 19 games at center for the Colts the last two seasons.

"I feel great playing guard or tackle," said tackle Denzelle Good, who started four games at right tackle in his rookie season in 2015. "You know, when it all comes down to it, it's the same thing — nothing's gonna change but the name of the position. You're still blocking the same guys."

Even the rookies already know the deal. Austin Blythe was officially selected in the seventh round of this year's draft as a center, but says he got used to switching between center and guard while as a standout lineman at Iowa.

"I think it's just important to show that you're willing to play anywhere, you're going to prepare to play anywhere and you're going to work hard to play anywhere," he said. "…Offensive line is offensive line. The difference with center is you just snap the ball. Otherwise it's pretty much the same, same steps, same technique across the board, so switching back-and-forth doesn't really bother me."

Blythe would go as far as to say he doesn't consider himself a center — or any other actual position, for that matter.

"I consider myself an offensive lineman," he told reporters on Saturday, just before the second day of rookie minicamp practices. "I don't really stand up and introduce myself as a center or a guard, it's offensive line. That's what I was taught at Iowa. You don't go there to play a position. That's the mindset I'm carrying into here."

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