INDIANAPOLIS — Whether they've been here eight years, eight weeks or eight days, the veteran offensive linemen have been setting the tone this offseason for the Indianapolis Colts' new-look offense.
First-year head coach Frank Reich said on Wednesday, after the team wrapped up its second day of OTA practices at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, that he's appreciated what the elder statesmen up front have brought to the huddle so far as the team continues through the offseason workout program.
"I mean, you know what we have been saying all along — it starts up front on both sides of the ball, and there just needs to be a mental toughness and a leadership of guys who are all in and guys who physically and mentally can do it play in and play out," Reich said. "Those guys have proven that over their career and they're stepping up in their leadership role."
When looking at a possible lineup, the Colts could be starting three players along the offensive line in 2018 who average nine years of NFL experience between them in left tackle Anthony Castonzo, right guard Matt Slauson and right tackle Austin Howard. Both Slauson and Howard were seen working with the first-team offense during Wednesday's practice, and while Castonzo did not participate in that session, he's the Colts' established starter at left tackle.
Castonzo, of course, has spent all eight years of his NFL career with the Colts, who selected him in the first round (22nd overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft. He's gone on to start in all 105 games in which he's played in Indianapolis, and was one of two players who did not miss an entire snap for the Colts last season.
Slauson, meanwhile, was signed by the Colts as an unrestricted free agent March 20, and brings with him 10 years of NFL experience.
Howard is the most recent addition along the line, as he signed a free agent deal with the Colts on May 9. He's entering his ninth NFL season in 2018 after starting all 16 games for the Oakland Raiders last season for the fourth time in six seasons.
Both Slauson and Howard were brought in not only for their talents up front, but also for their familiarity with members of the Colts' new coaching staff — Slauson with offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and Howard with offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo.
"I think that the addition of a guy like him who played in all 16 (games) last year, a guy like (Matt) Slauson who's played a lot of games in 11 years in the league — you know, these guys are, in our world, they're old men, but they still have a lot of meat on the bone," DeGuglielmo said of Slauson and Howard, specifically. "And I think it's helped to bring a sense of calm and veteran to the room."
After allowing an NFL-high 56 sacks in 2017, a "sense of calm and veteran" might just be what the Colts need up front moving forward. The veterans will be expected to bring along the young guys — the team spent first-round and second-round picks on guards in April's NFL Draft (Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith), and also features third-year center Ryan Kelly, a former first-round pick — but they're going to be counted on to play well themselves, too.
Reich said so far, so good.
"(They're) really setting the tone for us," he said. "Not only as an offensive line, but really as an offense in general."