INDIANAPOLIS –Many times a team is defined by the adversity it overcomes.
Through four games, Indianapolis has had its share of challenges. Many have been met, while some have thrust the club back into practice, study and preparation to try again.
Nowhere have the challenges been greater than on the offensive line, which has seen multiple starters miss games.
With a quarter of the season gone, Indianapolis has started three different game-opening configurations. No one is asking for pity or attention. The effort is just to get healthy and find some personnel cohesion.
General Manager Ryan Grigson is a former collegiate lineman who rebounded from a life-threatening game injury to captain his Purdue team as a senior. Grigson was steeled by that experience and with years in the NFL, he is aware only production matters.
"I heard someone the other day speak about what Bill Parcells said when people talked about (a team) being decimated by injuries. Parcells said, 'Nobody cares.' Really, no one does," said Grigson. "It's all about wins and losses."
Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is the only Colts player to have started and completed every game at one position. Right guard Mike McGlynn is the only other four-game starter, but twice he has shifted to center to spell Samson Satele, who has battled a knee injury.
Seth Olsen started the first three games at left guard, but now he is on injured reserve with a knee problem. Olsen is eligible to return later this year. Right tackle Winston Justice has opened three games, but missed the win over Minnesota. Jeff Linkenbach started that game for Justice, and he opened for Olsen at left guard in last week's win over Green Bay.
Satele is a battler who hopes to return this week. In his absence last week, A.Q. Shipley opened at center. He got plenty of experience as Indianapolis snapped a club-record 89 scrimmage plays.
Indianapolis is Shipley's third NFL stop and Sunday was his first start. He performed, but he was expected to do so.
"It's about what Chuck Pagano talks about, 'Next Man Up.' Yes, we might have to take a guy who wasn't on our team and was out of work two weeks ago, plug him in and he has to play. But we didn't just bring him in here by throwing a dart," said Grigson. "We brought a player in here because we studied him. We looked at film and thought he was a fit. We thought he had a chance to help us. That's what you have to do when you have no choice and you're down on numbers.
"Our O-line coaches, Goody (Harold Goodwin) and (Joe) Gilbert, they've done a masterful job of moving guys around and especially getting guys prepared. These two offensive line coaches are good. Goodwin has a really good presence and knows how to coach these guys hard, but still in a way the guys can receive it as NFL players. I'm really pleased with our offensive line tutelage."
Indianapolis has started seven linemen in four games, while a total of 10 have played. Left guard Joe Reitz, targeted as the season-opening starter, has yet to play.
Grigson, the architect, plans daily and expects players to be ready whenever they are called into action.
"I've learned not to take anything for granted. I just take things day-by-day," said Grigson. "It can only help down the road to get guys reps and for guys to get in there in the heat of battle, because you're never going to know if a player can perform or not unless you play him.
"That's the thing, a player never is going to use all those techniques and the time he's spent doing extra work or trying to get better unless he does play. Then you gauge whether he's good enough to stay in. It's the Wally Pipp thing. You have to have a chance and if a player has an opportunity to step up and does well, maybe he doesn't lose that spot. We're giving guys a lot of great opportunities. Because of injuries, guys are getting great opportunities. It's up to them to make the most of it."
Just as a leopard never changes its spots, as Grigson birddogs practice his attention drifts to a unit close to his heart.
"(Tight ends coach) Alfredo Robert was razzing me not long ago, 'I see you out here, and you seem to always be inching your way over to the offensive line,' " said Grigson. "It's just natural. I was an offensive lineman.
"Being in Philadelphia all those years where the offensive line was such an integral part of our team and the won-loss record…We placed such emphasis on the offensive line, it's kind of drilled in my head. Coupled with that is that I played on the line. It's (line play) near and dear to me.
The Parcells truism that no one wants to hear about injuries is accepted widely in America's most popular sport. The belief that line play can determine success and failure is held almost universally, too. Certainly, that belief is rooted firmly in Indianapolis.
"This game is won in the trenches. I don't care what anybody says," said Grigson. "I like to watch those guys. I love the nuances of the position. I like to look at their footwork. I like to see how they're stepping.
"I critique them in my office and talk to myself in the wee hours all the time if they're doing something wrong. It's such an important unit. It's a unit that has to perform as one. It has to be in harmony, if it's going to be great. That's what we're trying to establish here.
"I can't rest until we have one of the best lines in the NFL, if not the best line. I can't rest until that happens."