Colts draft overview: Tons of help for O-line, zip for pass rush

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – After investing eight picks in the NFL’s three-day, 253-selection draft, it’s fair to wonder whether the Indianapolis Colts allowed first-year defensive coordinator Ted Monachino in their draft room.

Monachino: Are we going to take a pass rusher?

Colts: Nope.

Monachino: Seriously?

Colts: Seriously.

While general manager Ryan Grigson and his personnel staff went to great lengths to upgrade a deficient offensive line – four picks on offensive linemen for the first time since 1983, including center Ryan Kelly with the 18th overall selection – the Colts’ pecking order among pass rushers is unchanged.

Robert Mathis, 35 and entering his 14th season.

Trent Cole, 33 and coming off a lackluster 2015 during which he managed only three sacks.

The Colts generated 35 sacks last season – tied for 11th fewest in the NFL – and improvement will come from within.

Grigson insisted his draft board never offered a viable pass-rush option when the Colts were on the clock.

“We weren’t just going to take a guy to take a guy,’’ he said.

Added coach Chuck Pagano: “We’ll find ways to generate pass rush.’’

That in mind, let’s offer a knee-jerk reaction of what the Colts accomplished, or failed to accomplish, the last three days.

What did they accomplish?

The Colts weren’t giving lip service to doing a better job of protecting Andrew Luck. The last time the franchise invested four picks in its offensive line, it called Baltimore home.

Ryan Kelly (round 1, 18 overall) is Luck’s Jeff Saturday. He’s got to be the no-nonsense leader of the offensive line, and the interior anchor that’s been missing.

Le’Raven Clark (round 3, 82 overall) should step in immediately and challenge either Joe Reitz or Denzelle Good at right tackle. If Clark emerges quickly, Good might be moved to guard and Reitz could return to being the unit’s invaluable interchangeable part.

Management also went with North Dakota State tackle Joseph Haeg (round 5, 155 overall) and, in what might represent overkill, Iowa center/guard Austin Blythe (round 7, 248 overall).

We like a projected starting unit of LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Jack Mewhort, Kelly, RG Hugh Thornton and whoever emerges at right tackle. It features a pair of first-rounders (Castonzo and Kelly), a second-rounder (Mewhort) and a third-rounder (Thornton).

Luck should be pleased as well.

It’s fair to wonder how Khaled Holmes fits in the mix, if at all.

Work to do

Monachino must have been locked out of the draft room. Where’s the help for his pass rush? As we mentioned, the Colts are expecting a ton from Mathis and Cole, and Monachino’s ability to be creative with his schemes. That’s what they asked of former coordinator Greg Manusky.

The Colts selected Texas’ Hassan Ridgeway in the fourth round (116 overall), but he’s more of an interior player.

“There’s no question we are going with some veterans on the edge there,’’ owner Jim Irsay said. “We feel like we can generate some pass rush. We know it’s a need.’’

The team also failed to draft a young running back to work behind Frank Gore, who turns 33 in May, or a hybrid tight end to replace Coby Fleener.

Speed and spirit

Safety T.J. Green (round 2, 57 overall) posted the fourth-fastest time at the NFL Scouting Combine (4.34), but remains in the developmental stage. He played the position two seasons at Clemson after being a receiver as a freshman. Green might spend his rookie season concentrating on special teams and learning under Pro Bowler Mike Adams. Down the road, Green and Clayton Geathers probably are your starting safeties.

Inside linebacker Antonio Morrison (round 4, 125 overall) brings attitude to the defense. He twice was arrested at Florida, once for barking at a police dog and resisting arrest. His defense for barking at the dog? It barked at him first. Nice.

On the field, Morrison overcame a serious injury to his left knee in the 2014 Birmingham Bowl – he said it was identical to the injury that likely will force Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith to miss the 2016 season – and started 14 games last season. He’s a thumper who loves contact.

“I’m tough, man,’’ Morrison said. “I love the contact part of the game. I just love hittin’ people.’’

The after-the-draft crop

No sooner had the draft run its course than reports linked several undrafted players to the Colts. Grigson said the team signed approximately 20 college free agents, but the team isn’t expected to release the list until Sunday or Monday.

Among undrafted players reportedly headed to Indy: Illinois running back Josh Ferguson, Purdue wide receiver Danny Anthrop, Nebraska cornerback Daniel Davie, Harvard  offensive tackle Adam Redmond, Syracuse defensive end Ron Thompson, Arkansas State tight end Darion Griswold, USC defensive tackle Delvon Simmons and Air Force long snapper Harrison Elliott.

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