INDIANAPOLIS –In a perfect world, the Colts would have fielded an offensive line last year that would have opened consistently as a unit.
Center Samson Satele, right guard Mike McGlynn and right tackle Winston Justice were new to the team and were tabbed to start the year. Anthony Castonzo was set for left tackle, while Indianapolis looked for Joe Reitz to open at left guard.
The NFL is anything but perfect, and injuries took an immediate toll. Reitz was inactive for the first six games and for seven overall.
Justice and Satele started as often as possible, but they both were inactive four times. McGlynn and Castonzo were the only intended starters to open every game, but even McGlynn had to shuttle inside on an occasion when Satele was nicked.
"I say this with a lot of conviction, there was only I believe four games this year where our starting offensive line played together," said General Manager Ryan Grigson. "How can you have a cohesive unit? That's a unit that's like a fist."
A former lineman himself, Grigson is spot on with the assessment.
Cohesion was not a possibility in 2012. Reitz, Jeff Linkenbach and Seth Olsen split the starts at left guard. Even though Reitz opened eight games, one start at Detroit lasted three plays before he suffered a concussion.
McGlynn shifted to center once last year when Satele was down, but the majority of the time A.Q. Shipley found playing time in the anchor position.
For the third straight season, Jeff Linkenbach was a 16-game performer and while he did not play every snap as he did last year, 2012 was an impressive year.
Linkenbach started four times at right tackle and left guard. He moved into the lineup early when Reitz was concussed at Detroit, but he finished that game at right tackle when Justice was concussed. Shipley subbed at left guard late during the club's 35-33 comeback win over the Lions.
"We had to band-aid that O-line and move guys around, and what a credit it is to our staff that we were able to get guys," said Grigson. "In this league, to do what those coaches did and to mix and match, to finish a game against Detroit with A.Q. Shipley playing guard, that's such a credit to our staff and to our players.
"Link (Jeff Linkenbach) playing against Bryan Robison and Everson Griffin in that Vikings game and winning that game playing right tackle, filling in at guard when needed, playing through injuries. The A.Q. Shipley's of the world that were out of football the year before (are impressive). He came in and then we beat the Packers with him. He starts a handful of games this year, and he came in in spot duty and really didn't miss a beat. Seth Olsen started for us this year before he was hurt, and we won games. Winston (Justice) battled his rear off this year, fighting through a lot of different injuries."
Grigson noted after the season the line does need to provide better pass protection, but he was quick to cite a unit that started seven different configurations. It never had more than three straight games with the same opening unit and only had four outings where the season-opening intended starters played together.
"We've had guys on that line, it's like a walking wounded," said Grigson. "We had so many guys just dinged up. The fact that we were as versatile as we were was something."