INDIANAPOLIS – For just the second time in franchise history, the Colts did not select a skill player in the NFL Draft.
The offensive resources this year went into the trenches, where GM Ryan Grigson and his staff chose four linemen.
How does Grigson view Joe Philbin's position group in 2016?
You and Chuck Pagano always talk about the level of competition within position groups. How pleased are you now with the quality of depth on the offensive line?
"The depth has obviously been added through the draft and college free agency but I think it comes down to each player's will to succeed along with the coaches and support staff's will to get them to their ceilings. The rate of maturation with young offensive lineman usually comes down to how quickly they can pick things up and the rate of speed they can correct their mistakes or bad habits. We all agreed collectively that the tape already showed they could play the game at a high level but now they are entering into another level and the players that don't blink at the bright lights in the beginning are usually the ones who play early. That comes with preparation combined with the talent. Those two things have to be married."
On paper, it appears you have several guys with position flex on the line. How do you see that playing out over the course of the offseason?
"It happens by design and by default. Some guys coming in have played other spots and others that haven't we feel have the athletic flexibility along with the mental aptitude to try at another spot. We also have some players healing up at certain positions so from just a numbers perspective, guys are going to have to function at other spots. The more you can do the more valuable you are to our team, but at the same time we want players that are strong at each spot across the line. Our end game is not to have a bunch of dull swiss army knives as backups, but to have versatile linemen that can still play a particular spot or spots at a winning level. We don't believe in drafting backups."
How key will versatility among those guys be when you are finalizing a 53-man roster, and eventually deciding who will dress on game days?
"Again, it's about having seven guys up that can be plugged in and can match up physically from the guy across from them and play winning football. A guy who can match or outmatch the intensity of the players across from them, not just dressing guys who can survive. Sometimes your roster is left with those type of players, but we feel with our staff and the talent we've acquired we are in a position to develop backup lineman into starter caliber lineman. Like any young player they will take their lumps, but unless they play they'll never be able to work through them or gain the experience to even know their ceiling. Denzelle Good is a great example. If we played it safe and didn't have the stones to throw a guy from Mars Hill out there last year we would have no way of knowing going into this offseason that we had a potential starter in him."
Of the four draft picks on the line, what specific attributes stand out about those guys?
"I would say with Ryan Kelly just a high level of consistency and production vs. high level opponents week in and week out. Le'Raven Clark would be length and pure pass blocking ability. Joe Haeg has intelligence, length, quickness and upside. Austin Blythe brings reliability, instincts and the will to succeed comes to mind. There's just an industrious nature about him. Also, those four players combined for just under 200 starts in college. So they have been extremely available for their teams and can be counted on. It was at the forefront of most conversations Chuck and I had after the season. Desiring to have players in our program that have the "abilities." Reliability, accountability, adaptability, durability, availability, etc. In a nutshell we want young men with a pro's mindset already, not kids who need a babysitter. These are mature young men that we feel are hard wired to adapt and handle the pressure of the job."
Lastly with Ryan Kelly, as a former offensive lineman yourself, how vital is it to now have a consistent voice at the center position, someone who did it at the highest level of collegiate football?
"At that position you have to not only be inherently football smart, but also a confident and decisive communicator. And this is all in the midst of bullets flying across from you, crowd noise, maybe a 350-pounder on your nose ready to tee off on you and then you still are expected to snap the ball and do your job at a high level, in a split second right after you are essentially making sure everyone else can do theirs. Takes a special player and person to be a great center and isn't always about the physical aspect like at other positions. We feel Ryan has all those attributes from a physical and intangible aspect."