By Corbin Smith
The Colts invested a lot of money trying to fix one of the NFL's weakest offensive lines this offseason by signing tackle Gosder Cherlius and guard Donald Thomas, but these additions have failed to yield much improvement from the group.
Cherilus has been steady at right tackle, but steady probably won't cut it after the team signed him away from the Detroit Lions with a 5 year, $34 million contract. Thomas came to Indianapolis with limited time as a starter for the New England Patriots, and he had met expectations for the most part before tearing a quad muscle last week against the Dolphins. He underwent season-ending surgery earlier this week, forcing third round draft choice Hugh Thornton into a starting spot quicker than anticipated.
The Colts hoped to develop Thornton slowly, with Thomas serving as a mentor for him while learning on the sidelines. However, the former Illinois standout will now be expected to grow up quickly as a starter at left guard, and he will need to show he can hold his own in the trenches against a physical, talented 49ers defensive front. After coming in for Thomas in the first half last week against Miami, Thornton showed flashes of being ready to play, but he also committed numerous rookie mistakes, including missing a block on Randy Starks on the team's final play of the game.
Indianapolis has plenty of reasons to be ecstatic about adding Richardson to the offense, but the Colts offensive line has similar talent at this point to the one he ran behind in Cleveland. Having a passing game led by Luck will help take pressure off the running game, but players like Thornton will be the real key to establishing balance on offense and allowing Richardson to find instant success with his new team. The rookie guard drew a tough first starting assignment and will need to rise to the occasion if Indianapolis wants to land a significant road victory.