INDIANAPOLIS — Frank Reich has made one goal for the 2019 season crystal clear: he wants a top-five rushing attack.
To Quenton Nelson, that’s a direct challenge to the offensive line — and he loves it.
“That fires us all up,” Nelson told reporters this week.
The Colts in 2018 allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL (18), but finished 20th in the league in rushing yards. While the team did turn in some quality days running the ball last season, Reich wants to see more consistency out of his offense in that particular area.
With all five starting offensive linemen — as well as most of the rest of the offensive starters — returning in 2019, Nelson is confident in his teammates’ ability to answer their head coach’s call.
“We’ve put together some good games last year as an offensive line, and the running backs too — making people miss — and we also had some games where we didn’t play as well as we wanted to,” Nelson said. “And this year it’s all about being consistent with the run game, calling the plays, and then us executing. So I think bringing everybody back on the offensive line this year, having a year of experience together and a year of Coach Frank and Coach (Nick) Sirianni’s offense, that we’re definitely going to be capable of doing that.”
The first step the Colts took to revamp their run game this offseason was to bring in a new offensive line coach in Chris Strausser, as well as a new assistant offensive line coach, Klayton Adams. The team also lured legendary assistant coach Howard Mudd — who guided the Colts’ offensive line during the Peyton Manning era — back as a senior offensive assistant.
At the end of the day, blocking is blocking, and there aren’t going to be sweeping changes from one offensive line coach to the next. But Nelson says the smaller details and techniques being taught by Mudd, Strausser and Adams are already paying off as the Colts enter the first week of OTA practices.
“I like them a lot,” Nelson said. “They really harp on the fundamentals and do a great job teaching. They are very detail-oriented and what they’re teaching; I feel like I have already seen results in myself and my teammates too. So it has been awesome being coached by them and they’re doing a great job.”
Nelson is coming off perhaps one of the more successful rookie seasons for an NFL offensive lineman in recent memory. The Colts’ left guard started all 16 games — and played all 1,136 of the Colts’ offensive snaps — and was named First-Team All-Pro. He also became the first Colts rookie offensive lineman selected to the Pro Bowl since guard Chris Hinton in 1983.
The Notre Dame product became appointment viewing each week for football diehards, who couldn’t get enough of Nelson’s nastiness and ability to finish blocks with authority.
With all those accolades, one might not blame Nelson if he wanted to coast into his second NFL season.
There’s no chance of that happening, however.
“I think everyone can get better at their technique just every day with the consistency of it – like all the fine details of offensive line play,” Nelson said. “For me, it would be getting my hands inside, keeping my elbows in in the run game and the pass game and really trusting and believing in my technique.”
Nelson said he’ll cringe watching some plays from last year, even before the ball is snapped, knowing what’s about to unfold. But he also knows the importance of learning from what he did right during his rookie season, as well.
“We’ll be watching film of last year, and on a bad play, I’ll know exactly how I got beat or exactly what I did wrong before the play’s even recorded,” he said. “But it’s definitely good not to just put an emphasis on the bad. I mean, you’ve gotta focus on the good and the bad, and it’s awesome to just know that you can get better and there’s so much room for improvement this year. And I feel like with the coaches we have and, again, being with the same group for another year, (it’s) definitely possible to do that.”