Another week, another starting offensive line combo for Colts
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Even for the Indianapolis Colts, the current state of the offensive line is, well, troublesome.
And this with quarterback Andrew Luck dealing with a sore right shoulder, a sore elbow and undoubtedly, overall body soreness. He missed Wednesday’s practice after being hit 13 times in last Sunday’s loss to Houston, was limited Thursday and a full participant Friday.
The latest situation to emerge from the revolving door attached to the offensive line room: rookie Le’Raven Clark probably making his first NFL start Sunday when the Colts deal with the Minnesota Vikings and their No. 2-ranked defense.
Clark’s insertion at right tackle and rookie Joe Haeg sliding back to right guard are necessitated by veteran Joe Reitz’s back injury and Denzelle Good remaining in the NFL’s concussion protocol. Each has been ruled out for Sunday’s road test against the Vikings.
“They’re up for the challenge,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said Friday. “Yeah, hell yeah. They’re going to play great.’’
That’s tantamount to blind faith.
The combination of Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Jon Harrison at left guard, Ryan Kelly at center, Haeg and Clark is the seventh different starting line this season and the 35th Luck will work behind in his 68th regular-season career. The latter is the most endured by a quarterback in his first 68 games since at least 1970.
“We’ve talked, it seems about every week in here, the continuity you would obviously love to have at that position up front, we haven’t had that,’’ offensive coordinator Rod Chuzinski said. “That is no excuse. We have to find a way with the guys who are going in.’’
The expected growing pains have been felt from the outset, and have been exacerbated as the Colts have had to lean heavily on their draft class. Kelly, the 18th overall pick in April, has started all 13 games and Haeg, a fifth-rounder, has started 11 at three different spots.
Sunday marks the second time the Colts will start three rookies along the offensive line, and the previous time was unsightly. In week 4 against Jacksonville in London, Kelly was flanked by right guard Austin Blythe (seventh-round pick) and Haeg at right tackle. In a 30-27 loss to the Jaguars, Luck was sacked a career-high six times and hit on another seven occasions.
Also concerning Sunday are the two healthy backups: Blythe and Jeremy Vujnovich, who was added to the active roster from the practice squad this week.
Clark’s huge step comes after an incredibly quiet rookie season. He’s been inactive eight weeks and seen limited exposure in five games. His experience in those five games consists of six offensive snaps, five last week against the Texans, and 25 special-teams plays.
“It really hasn’t been a challenge,’’ Clark said of his rookie season. “I’ve always just kept faith in the situation. Nothing’s bothered me. Just being ready when my number’s called. Just be ready to go.’’
The entire offensive line had better be ready to go.
The Vikings are 7-6 and remain in the thick of the NFC wild-card race. That’s primarily because of their daunting defense. It ranks 2nd in yards allowed (304.3), 1st in fewest points (17.3) and tied for 3rd in sacks (35).