WESTFIELD, Ind. – Heading into their preseason opener a year ago, the Colts' offensive line wasn't able to practice with much continuity.
Left tackle Eric Fisher was on PUP. Left guard Quenton Nelson was out after having a procedure on his foot. Center Ryan Kelly was out after suffering a hyperextended elbow. Right tackle Braden Smith was in and out of practice, too. So there were days when 80 percent of the Colts' projected No. 1 offensive line wasn't practicing.
Through two and a half weeks of training camp – and with the preseason kicking off Saturday – the Colts' starting five offensive linemen have had the kind of continuity they missed at this time in 2021. Matt Pryor, Nelson, Kelly, Danny Pinter and Smith have practiced together every day and bonded off the field, too, developing the kind of trust that allows five players to play as one cohesive unit.
The Colts held their tenth practice of 2022 Training Camp on Thursday, August 11.
And for an offensive line that's working in two new starters at left tackle and right guard, that continuity is important.
"I think it puts us in a good situation to challenge each other – I think that was something that we kind of lacked last year was we kind of fell off a little bit," Kelly said. "So, I think it's hard to challenge somebody if you don't get to know them first. So, having known those guys for four to five years now, Q can say something to me, or I can say something to him or Braden, right?
"I think that's what we were kind of missing, and that's what we talked about this offseason, was holding each other to a higher standard, and certainly having five years together certainly helps us do that. That brings the rest of the room together as well."
For what it's worth, three of the Colts' lowest-graded (by Pro Football Focus) run and pass blocking games came in the first four weeks of the 2021 season. There were mitigating factors in there – Nelson and Smith missed time in that stretch – but it stands to reason that having O-line continuity in August could help the Colts get off to a faster start in September.
"It's really key just to have everybody healthy and to build that chemistry because everything is kind of like a working machine — you get a few things out of place, it's not run as smoothly," Smith said. "So if you get everybody healthy working together, you get more reps together, you build that cohesion and the offense will look a lot smoother come to game time."
News, notes and observations from Thursday's non-padded practice at Grand Park:
- Head coach Frank Reich said wide receiver Parris Campbell and safety Julian Blackmon – who both suffered significant injuries in 2021 – will play Saturday against the Bills at Highmark Field. "It's as much for them as it is for us, just the confidence level," Reich said.
- While defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis is "weeks ahead" of where the Colts anticipated at the start of training camp, Reich said he wasn't sure if the fifth-year veteran would play in Buffalo. Lewis has been working his way back from a season-ending patella injury suffered against the Titans last year.
- On the field, tight end Drew Ogletree had two impressive catches during seven-on-seven. He high-pointed a pass from Matt Ryan down the sideline on the first; on the second, he snatched a zippy Nick Foles throw over the middle with one hand.
- Ryan found Campbell a couple of times in 11-on-11. The first connection went for a chunk gain over the middle; on the second, Campbell won a physical 50/50 battle with cornerback Kenny Moore II.
- Ryan also hit tight ends Mo Alie-Cox and Kylen Granson for nice gains during 11-on-11.
- Cornerback Brandon Facyson forced an incompletion with tight coverage on running back Jonathan Taylor during 11-on-11.
- This highlight has become a daily staple of practices: Foles, again, found wide receiver Ashton Dulin twice during 11-on-11.
- Cornerback Isaiah Rodgers broke up a 50/50 ball intended for Alie-Cox in 11-on-11. "Isaiah's having a pretty great camp," Moore said. "This is Isaiah's best camp that he's having. I see a lot of growth in him. He's competing each day and he looks very natural at nickel as well. I'm excited to see him play more this year and see what he can do."
- Cornerback Stephon Gilmore had a pass break-up in 11-on-11.
- Undrafted rookie linebacker JoJo Domann notched an interception late in 11-on-11.