Hope For The Colts' Offensive Line
Notable players: Anthony Castonzo, Donald Thomas, Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn, Gosder Cherilus, Hugh Thornton, Khaled Holmes
One-word description: Hope
Once the 2012 NFL season ended, the future of the Indianapolis Colts looked as bright as any team’s. The Colts exceeded everyone’s expectations by going 11-5 and making the playoffs. Armed with arguably the league’s best young quarterback in Andrew Luck, it seemed there was only one thing that could derail an upcoming decade of excellence, and it had nothing to do with any opponent.
It had everything to do with the offensive line, the men in charge of protecting the team’s most valuable asset.
This positional unit was widely regarded as the worst on the Colts roster, one of the worst offensive lines the Colts have seen in years. Heading into the 2013 offseason, GM Ryan Grigson, a former offensive lineman himself, knew he had to make some changes up front.
There’s no use in having a franchise quarterback if he never has any time to set up and make a quality throw.
So, Grigson made some astute moves to improve the line. First, he signed guard Donald Thomas and tackle Gosder Cherilus in free agency. Cherilus has constantly been improving over the past few seasons and had a monster year in 2012. That sudden peak may or may not have arrived in his contract year for a reason, but regardless, he’s always been a better option than what the Colts went through at right tackle last season.
Cherilus will be starting opposite left tackle Anthony Castonzo, the lone bright spot from last year’s line. This duo already has some experience starting together, having been teammates at Boston College. I think this pairing would work better with Cherilus starting at left tackle and Castonzo at right – the former is a better pass-blocker, while the latter specializes in run-blocking – but they will still be a strong foundation for protecting Luck.
Thomas will take over as the starting left guard, replacing Joe Reitz. Thomas has only started 21 games since entering the league in 2008, but he’s been very effective when given an opportunity, especially last year in New England. Starting at right guard opposite Thomas will be Mike McGlynn. McGlynn was maybe the worst starter last year, which is really saying something, given how the line performed. But with Reitz struggling with injury problems and Thomas being a natural left guard, the healthy right guard McGlynn gets the starting nod for now.
Samson Satele, who signed as a free agent in 2012, will open training camp as the starter at center. Satele was better than McGlynn and Reitz, but he’s still not the center you want to pair with Luck for years to come. 2012 backup center A.Q. Shipley actually outperformed Satele when Satele went down to injury, but Shipley was traded in May to the Baltimore Ravens for a conditional pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
With center and right guard still being the weak links up front, Grigson took to the 2013 NFL Draft to develop some future starters. He selected guard Hugh Thornton in the third round and center Khaled Holmes in the fourth. Grigson is especially excited about Thornton. After selecting him, Grigson said he had been eying Thornton since the beginning of his senior year at Illinois. I doubt either Thornton or Holmes will start any this season (barring injury), as both are raw and will need at least a year to learn the NFL game. But Satele and McGlynn will be on short leashes after their performances in 2012, so don’t be surprised if either rookie sees a good amount of playing time this year.
There may be two weak spots on the offensive line right now, but that’s still an instant upgrade over last year’s four. And after a year or two, once the two rookies get some time to improve, the starting combination of (left to right) Castonzo, Thomas, Holmes, Thornton and Cherilus should be exponentially better than the 2012 line.
Of course, we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Free agent acquisitions in the NFL all too often become busts, and we have no idea if Thornton or Holmes will live up to their potential.
But for right now, it looks like the Colts offensive line will be much improved this year and even better in 2014 and beyond. Even in the worst-case scenario, there’s almost no way it can be worse than 2012. Right now, there’s hope for the offensive line, which is way more than we could say at this time last year.