INDIANAPOLIS –When the Colts take the field this Thursday night against Cincinnati in the preseason finale they will be doing so in their traditional blue home jerseys.
Three hours later when the game is concluded, Head Coach Chuck Pagano wants blue to still be the predominant color noticed in the upper wear of quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Drew Stanton and Chandler Harnish.
He does not the crushed tire of the playing surface of Lucas Oil Stadium to be evident anywhere on the trio. In short, a clean pocket means to protect the quarterback.
"Any time he's on the ground, it's too much for any quarterback," said Pagano. "Our goal is to keep him upright every snap, every time we drop back. Keep him clean. We know that's hard to do in the NFL. Taking the hits he (Luck) took and coming out of there giving up four sacks (for the game) is (not the goal). Our offensive line coaches and the offensive line would tell you it's unacceptable."
Last Saturday at Washington, Andrew Luck was sacked twice and was hit on a number of other occasions despite being nimble among on-coming rushers. On the 31-yard scoring pass on which he connected with rookie T.Y. Hilton, Luck slid to his right to buy the instant needed to let the receiver come clean near the goal-line. It was a solid pocket presence by Luck, but a sense needed to make the play work.
Other times, he was brushed or hit after releasing the ball and counting two sacks incurred by Chandler Harnish, Colts quarterbacks were hit or sacked a total of eight times on 46 dropbacks.
It was a number too high for the tastes of Pagano, his staff and the players, thus the stated goal on Monday of wanting a perfectly clean pocket going forward.
"Clean means exactly what it is. Clean means him not being touched," said tackle Winston Justice. "When someone says they want the quarterback clean, they don't want any (defensive) linemen near him (or) linebackers near him. Keep him off the ground, basically untouched."
Guard Joe Reitz got the memo as well.
"Clean means he doesn't get hit at all and at the end of the game his uniform is just like it was when he put it on before the game," said the second-year pro. "We need to make sure as an offensive line that we're doing that because that will lead to success for us as a team.
"We didn't have the performance we would have liked against Washington. We're anxious to get back on the practice field and get our mistakes corrected."
Tackle Anthony Castonzo was a Rhodes Scholar candidate at Boston College and holds a degree in biochemistry. He sees no ambiguity in the term "clean."
"That comes from him not getting hit at all. Even if he gets the ball off, we want to keep him from getting any hits really," said Castonzo. "Keep him clean in terms of off the ground and keep him clean in terms of no bruises."
Pass protection meetings were something Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians learned from Tom Moore in 1998 when Moore served in Arians' current role. Arians was Peyton Manning's position coach and each week started with how the line would protect the rookie quarterback.
"There's no doubt (about the importance of protection," said Arians. "That's one thing I learned from Tom (Moore). We start every week with pass protection, knowing our hots (hot reads), knowing our sights (sight adjustments), because we can't block them all.
"That's a major, major part of football right now especially with substitution football, spreading the field out. The exotic zone blitzes are just getting worse and worse to try to handle. You spend most of your time on that. It's fun when you can run the ball and beat somebody up. It doesn't happen very often in this league anymore, but that pass protection is the key."
Justice and Castonzo were both asked if it were an unrealistic goal for the line to have of providing a "touchless" day for the quarterback.
"We can't think of it that way, alright? It can't happen," said Justice. "It could happen. We just need to be perfect in our technique and our (alignment) to know where we're going and how we're going to go about doing it. It has to happen, and we can do it.
"We can't get him hit. We can't get him touched. We have to keep him clean, that all starts up front with our assignments and our technique. We have to be perfect about it."
"You want to set a goal as high as possible," said Castonzo. "You can always improve if that's your goal. We've been pretty good generally (over three games). He hasn't been hit that much. The last game we had some problems on a couple of blitzes. It's something we can clean up. It has been pretty good.
"Priority one is keeping him comfortable back there so he can make his reads and throw the ball and not worry about being hit."
Pagano says the problems are not systemic, it is just the application of the instruction needs to be improved.
"They know they can play better, have played better and will play better," said Pagano. "We just have to get some communication things worked out and some technique issues (resolved), and we should be fine."
COLTS ROSTER UPDATE – To reach the NFL-mandated size of 75 players, the Colts have finished off the last of the moves. The team announced the waiving of 11 players yesterday and with the addition of cornerback Vontae Davis, five more moves were needed to reach today's 4:00 p.m. deadline.
Offensive tackle George Foster, nose tackle Brandon McKinney and wide receiver Griff Whalen were placed on injured reserved and are lost for the season. Offensive guard Justin Anderson and nose tackle Josh Chapman were placed on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform. Anderson and Chapman will remain on PUP for the first six weeks of the season, a period where they can condition and work out individually, but not with the team. There will be a three-week period where they may start to practice, and they could be activated at any time. If they are not activated at the end of the three-week period, they will be out for the season. The club must reduce the roster size to 53 players on Friday.