INDIANAPOLIS — For 15 games this season, the Indianapolis Colts have trotted out the same five guys along their offensive line: Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Quenton Nelson at left guard, Ryan Kelly at center, Mark Glowinski at right guard and Braden Smith at right tackle.
So when Nelson exited last Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers with a concussion, and subsequently entered the league's concussion protocol, it created the possibility of a different offensive lineman joining the starting lineup for the first time all season — and in the team's final game, no less.
But on Thursday, as the Colts players got back on the practice field after getting Wednesday's Christmas holiday off, big No. 56 was back out there, albeit in a red non-contact jersey, going through drills during the early portion of the session that was able to be viewed by the media.
Nelson was officially labeled as a limited participant Thursday, creating the possibility of him suiting back up Sunday on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars if the two-time Pro Bowler can keep making positive progress through the league's concussion protocol.
If Nelson is ultimately ruled out, however, it seems as if fourth-year veteran Joe Haeg could get the call at left guard for the Colts. Haeg last Sunday played 30 snaps at left guard in place of Nelson over the second half of the Colts' 38-6 home victory over the Panthers.
In fact, it was Haeg that sprung Marlon Mack on his 30-yard carry in the fourth quarter that officially put the third-year running back over the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the season for the first time in his career.
"Joe did a really good job coming in and he played well," Reich told reporters Monday in his weekly conference call. "He did have a great block on that play. It was good for him – a couple good blocks on that play, but Joe certainly had the one that sprung it."
The Colts have benefitted greatly from a healthy offensive line throughout the 2019 season; in fact, they're the only team in the NFL to have the same five offensive linemen start all 15 games this season.
Only on one other occasion this season was that O-line starting streak threatened: back in Week 9, Kelly exited the Colts' game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a neck injury and did not return. He was replaced by Josh Andrews, who played out the final 49 snaps of the game, but Kelly was right back in the lineup the following week against the Miami Dolphins.
While the Colts weren't able to achieve their major goals for the 2019 season — getting into the playoffs for a second straight season and ultimately winning a championship — the team reset its ambitions heading into the final two weeks of the season.
Getting two wins to close out the season with an 8-8 record is the new goal. The team checked one of those boxes last Sunday against the Panthers, and hope to check the other box on Sunday against the Jaguars.
"It's the last game, so why not go out with a bang?" Colts running back Nyheim Hines said today. "Nobody wants to begin the offseason with a bad taste in their mouth, so hopefully we go out there and execute, and we're going to play for one another.
"8-8 sounds a lot better than 7-9," Hines continued. "We're all competitors — nobody wants to go out and lose any game — and obviously the goal's the playoffs, but throughout the season the goals change, so right now our goal is to go 1-0 this week, and finish 8-8. And that's what we're focused on."
Hines was the talk of the town last Sunday, as he set Colts single-game franchise records with his 195 punt return yards and two punt return touchdowns in Indy's victory over Carolina. A similar performance this Sunday against the Jaguars will be difficult, at the very least, but Hines and the return unit are certainly rolling at the moment.
"They're a division opponent. They know us well, they know what we like to do. So (I'm) definitely sure they're probably gonna put an emphasis on it, but hopefully we'll go out there and have a week like we did last week — which will be hard to do," Hines said. "But we're gonna take what they give us. And if it's two punt returns or zero, we're gonna go out there and do well."
Here's the full injury report from Thursday's practice:
» DNP: DT/DE Denico Autry (concussion); CB Kenny Moore II (ankle); DE Al-Quadin Muhammad (Groin); S Khari Willis (shoulder); CB Quincy Wilson (shoulder)
» Limited: G/C Quenton Nelson (concussion); RB Jordan Wilkins (ankle)
» Full: LB Darius Leonard (back); DT Grover Stewart (knee)
— Wilkins is a new addition to the injury report on Thursday.
— Nelson, Leonard and Stewart all improved their injury statuses from Wednesday (when the team didn't hold a practice but released an estimation of participation if they had) to Thursday.