Anthony Castonzo injury has Colts shuffling O-line again
WESTFIELD, Ind. – A perceived position of strength throughout the offseason has digressed – one injury at a time – as training camp has unfolded.
The Indianapolis Colts’ offensive line, too long an eyesore, seemingly had been adequately addressed and finally upgraded by general manager Chris Ballard. The draft added guards Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith. Free agency brought in guard Matt Slauson and tackles Austin Howard and J’Marcus Webb.
But as Andrew Luck ran the offense Monday at Grand Park, he did so behind a line that lacked definition on the edges. At various times, Joe Haeg, Le’Raven Clark and Webb took reps at left tackle, and Howard and Webb at right tackle.
In the final 11-on-11 session, Howard was at his projected right tackle spot and Webb situated on the left side.
The reason for the instability? Injuries of course, most notably a stubborn right hamstring that will force left tackle Anthony Castonzo “to miss some time,’’ according to coach Frank Reich.
Castonzo first injured the hamstring while working out on his own in July – “At some point I’ll learn that over-training is not the way to do things,’’ he said – which resulted in him opening camp on the non-football injury list. He gained medical clearance and began practicing, but aggravated the injury Friday.
Until Castonzo returns – we shouldn’t be surprised if he’s held out until the Sept. 9 opener against Cincinnati – the Colts will look for answers at the most critical offensive line position.
“Because of the nature of that position, we’re looking for guys who can play every single play and I know Anthony has done that throughout his career,’’ offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said Monday. “We’re really excited about that.’’
Since the Colts selected Castonzo with the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 draft, they’ve had only two starting left tackles: Castonzo and Joe Reitz. Castonzo has missed just seven of a possible 118 starts.
“We’re just going to take the mindset of we will find a guy if something ever happened to (Castonzo),’’ Frank Reich said. “We’ll find a guy and I’ve this before, but just learning that from Tony Dungy. You just have to have a belief in your players, work them, train them and they usually rise to the occasion.
“So that would be our approach if that ever came up.’’
It has, in the short term.
One candidate to step in for Castonzo is Denzelle Good, but he’s missing time with an undisclosed injury. That leaves Webb and Haeg as the most likely replacements.
Webb was signed July 30 and probably out of necessity as Castonzo and Howard opened camp on the non-football injury list. He offers size (6-7, 311 pounds) and experience (80 games and 64 starts with four teams in seven seasons), but last played with Seattle in 2016.
The Seahawks signed Webb to a two-year, $5.75 million contract prior to ’16 only to release him after nine games. His situation was compounded when the NFL suspended him for the first four games of 2017. Webb, a 2010 7th-round pick of Chicago, never hooked up with a team once his suspension was lifted.
“It’s 2018. I’m here,’’ he said. “What a beautiful day it is to be a Colt.’’
Webb added he spent last year “working on myself, challenging myself. I worked really hard to get back to a great situation. You’ve got to be ready when your time is called upon.’’
Ballard admitted last week he “screwed up’’ by not doing a better job of addressing the offensive line in his first season as GM. There was a noticeable change in approach in year 2. Nelson, the 6th overall pick in the draft, has been the starting left guard from day 1. Slauson appears in line to be the opening-day starter at right guard, unless Smith, a second-round pick, unseats him. Howard has worked at right tackle since signing a one-year, $3.75 million contract in May.
The importance of settling on a starting five can’t be overstated, but once again the Colts are shuffling. Since Luck’s arrival in 2012, they’ve used 46 different starting combinations.
“Because of the nature of that position, there are going to naturally be dings and bumps and bruises that are going to shift you off course a little bit,’’ Sirianni said. “So we’re handling those right now.
“We’ve got some bumps and bruises and we’re shifting to get back on course. When they’re out there, it’s 5-as-1. They’ve got to be 5-as-1 and tied in with the quarterback and everybody else. But we also aren’t naïve . . . it’s a long year. It’s got to be 8-as-1 and 9-as-1. We’re looking at that as a positive.’’
One thing’s for certain: until Castonzo returns at left tackle, Sirianni will game-plan accordingly. He isn’t about to expose Luck to unnecessary peril if the Colts’ left tackle – or any position – is outmanned, starting with Thursday’s preseason opener at Seattle.
“We take that into account every single week,’’ Sirianni said. “ ‘Hey, who’s up? Who’s down? Who do they have that’s good?’ I was always taught you never let their best player beat you.
“When you figure out this guy’s up, this guy’s down, we figure out from there this is how we’ve got to protect it.’’