INDIANAPOLIS —Right guard. Right guard. Right tackle. Right tackle. Left guard.
Those have been the starting positions for Indianapolis Colts rookie offensive lineman Joe Haeg the past five weeks. The last listed position, left guard, is where Haeg is expected to start today, when the Colts take on the Tennessee Titans in a huge AFC South Division showdown in Nashville.
With starting left guard Jack Mewhort officially out of today's game with a tricep injury, head coach Chuck Pagano and offensive line coach Joe Philbin had no reservations about sliding Haeg over to a brand new position.
In fact, Haeg has handled all the maneuvering better than expected.
"(Joe) Philbin has been around for a long, long time and coached a lot of offensive linemen and he has never seen a guy, especially a rookie, come in and be able to handle the things that he has handled to this point," Pagano said of Haeg. "He has started at three different positions now and for a rookie that is outstanding."
That's not to say the Colts didn't have high expectations for Haeg when they picked the 6-foot-6, 304-pound North Dakota State product in the fifth round (155th overall) of this year's NFL Draft.
But at first, it seemed as if Haeg would be a key backup at multiple positions for the Colts, who have been working find the right pieces along an offensive line that has been heavily scrutinized the past couple seasons.
Through his first-ever round of OTAs, training camp and preseason, however, Haeg showed he not only had the ability to start in the NFL, but he could do it at multiple sports wherever he's needed.
Today, he's needed at left guard, while veteran Joe Reitz is expected to start at right tackle, where Haeg had been playing the past two weeks.
Haeg said vets like Reitz have been instrumental in his development. Instead of taking an "every man for himself" approach, Haeg said the veterans in the offensive line room know that overall development — among the friendly competition for spots — is the only way the line, and the offense in general, will get better.
"Our vets are amazing in the offensive line room. Every guy is there to help every one; it doesn't matter if you're competing with them for a spot or any situation," Haeg said. "It's just been awesome to be part of this, especially starting back in OTAs and all these guys are supportive in the room. We all want the same goal in the end."
Individually, Haeg said it's been important to have a short memory throughout each game he plays. NFL defensive linemen and linebackers are paid to beat the offensive linemen in front of them, so when that does happen from time to time, the key is to learn from the mistake, and not dwell on it.
"Any player can do any move at any time, obviously, but you've just got to be able to get used to the speed, and if a D-lineman maybe beats you in a certain play, learn 'Why did he beat me? What can I do better that can prevent it?'" Haeg said. "And you kind of have to have the mentality that no matter what the D-linemen does, I should be able to block him. So you put it on yourself and keep working."
For Haeg, success on Sundays begins with a heavy dose of preparation much earlier in the week. "Play like you practice" is more than just a saying to the 23-year-old Lake Shore, Minn., native, especially after a tough game like last week's overtime loss to the Houston Texans.
"When you go out there and lose a game like that, the first thing you're trying to do is get in the film, watch it, and then get on the practice field and improve," he said. "And that's the main thing: we've just got to keep grinding, and we'll see the results there."