INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The next step in the Indianapolis Colts’ bid to put an unfulfilling 2015 season behind them comes Tuesday when they report to Anderson University for the start of training camp.
Over the next several days, we’ll take a positional look at how they’ve positioned themselves not only to challenge for the AFC South title, but a possible run at Super Bowl 51.
Today we focus on the offensive line.
Projected starters: LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Jack Mewhort, C Ryan Kelly, RG Hugh Thornton, RT Joe Reitz.
Potential backups: Jon Harrison, Denzelle Good, Le’Raven Clark, Joe Haeg, Austin Blythe.
Others: Kevin Graf, Kitt O’Brien, Adam Redmond, Mitchell Van Dyk, Jeremy Vujnovich.
The Reitz stuff: Four-fifths of the starting unit seems to be set in stone. The uncertainty is at right guard. Is that guy Thornton, a 32-game starter the past three seasons who missed the offseason work with an unspecified injury? Maybe Harrison, a 19-game starter at center the last two seasons who’s looking for a new home with the arrival of Kelly? Perhaps Good, who started four games at right tackle as a rookie in ’15?
Settled in are Castonzo at left tackle, Mewhort at left guard, Kelly at center and . . . Reitz at right tackle. The latter has been the invaluable Swiss Army knife of the group, someone able to adapt to any situation and position. Consider the breakdown of the former Hamilton Southeastern High School standout’s 41 career starts, including the postseason: 19 at left guard, 14 at right tackle, six at right guard and two at left tackle.
“As a player, as a lineman, unfortunately injuries happen and you wind up shuffling,’’ said Reitz. “Shoot, even Anthony missed a couple of games last year, which is very, very rare for him.
“When you’re learning the plays, you want to learn everything conceptually. I’m learning right tackle, but I also have to know what the right guard is doing, what the center is doing, the left tackle, the left guard. One, it helps you be a more efficient player. But two, sometimes things happen and you might find yourself at one of those positions.’’
Until an injury forces a shuffle along the line, Reitz is the right tackle.
“Yeah, until they tell me different,’’ he said.
It’s been a storybook career for Reitz. From two-sport star at Hamilton Southeastern to basketball standout at Western Michigan to undrafted free-agent tight end prospect of the Baltimore Ravens in 2008 to developmental offensive lineman to waiver-wire pickup of the Colts in 2010 to mainstay. Reitz’s persistence and versatility paid off in March 2015 when he signed a three-year contract that could be worth as much as $10 million.
“It’s a dream come true,’’ he said. “It’s always been my approach to just try and stick. When I was back in Baltimore, I just wanted to make it a day. I just wanted to make it a week. I just wanted to make it that first season on the practice squad.
“When I came to Indy, I just wanted to stick. When I was on the roster, I just wanted to stay the starter. I wanted to be the guy. You know you’re fighting for your job every day. Taking that approach has served me very well and helped me stay in this league.’’
Center of attention: Have the Colts finally gotten it right? After Samson Satele? And A.Q. Shipley? And Mike McGlynn? And Khaled Holmes? And Harrison?
Will the maddening revolving door at center stop spinning and will Kelly, the Alabama All-America, be to Andrew Luck what Jeff Saturday was to Peyton Manning? That’s the plan.
“They’re trying to get that relationship with Luck that Peyton and I had,’’ Saturday said. “And I hope he’s better than I was.’’
So committed was management to bringing interior stability to a lacking offensive line that it went against its time-tested draft blueprint. For just the second time in franchise history, the Colts drafted a center in the first round.
Kelly was taken 18th overall, and immediately made his plans known. He was asked if he considered himself a plug-and-play player?
“I think I have the tools necessary to do that,’’ he said. “I think playing in the SEC surely helped me out a lot. I’m not saying that going to the NFL is going to be easy. It’s a huge challenge. But ultimately this game is a challenge.’’
Kelly’s placement in the locker room was no coincidence. His cubicle is adjacent to Luck’s.
“The quarterback relationship with the center is very crucial,’’ Kelly said. “Certainly you have to build a relationship off the field as well.’’
Kelly made a solid first impression with his new QB.
“New locker ‘mate Ryan right there,’’ Lucks said. “He’s been great. He’s smart. He’s conscientious. He’s tough.
“I think he’s got a little ornery in him. He’s a little bit mean, which is great.’’
Worth noting: Kelly’s addition should help stabilize the entire group, which is critical. Since Luck’s arrival in 2012, injuries and ineffective play have undermined continuity and productivity. Including the postseason, the Colts have used 32 different starting combinations.
The constant shuffling has been most evident at center. The breakdown since ’12, including the playoffs: Satele 26 starts, Harrison 19, Holmes 12, Shipley 10 and McGlynn 3.
For those who need a reminder, Saturday and Manning shared 170 regular-season starts, an NFL record for a center-quarterback tandem.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.