INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Jim Irsay apparently has put a huge checkmark in one of the boxes on the Indianapolis Colts’ offseason “To do’’ list.
It’s an area that for too long has impeded the progress of the offense and tested the durability of quarterback Andrew Luck.
“Let me say this: The offensive line is fixed,’’ the ever-optimistic owner insisted Thursday while addressing approximately 2,000 of his team’s season ticket holders at a first-ever Town Hall meeting. “I’m telling you guys, the offensive line is fixed because (former long-time position coach) Howard Mudd told me it’s fixed.
“If Howard Mudd tells you it’s fixed, it’s fixed.’’
After five seasons of constant change. Luck has stood behind 35 different starting combinations in his 70 regular-season starts. He’s taken snaps from six centers.
After five seasons of wildly inconsistent and frequently ineffective performance. Luck has been sacked 156 times in those 70 games. And since his arrival in 2012, the Colts’ pass protection has yielded an NFL-high 578 QB “hits.’’ Cleveland – Cleveland, for cryin’ out loud – is next in line with 545.
After five seasons of, again, testing the sturdiness of the franchise cornerstone. Luck has missed 10 games over the past two seasons while dealing with a lacerated kidney, a concussion and injuries to his right shoulder, right elbow, right thumb and left ankle. He’s currently in rehab mode after undergoing surgery in January to repair a partially-torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Some of the blame for Luck’s battered body rests with Luck. He’s loathe to give up on a play, frequently holds the ball a bit too long to give his receivers extra time to spring open and isn’t shy about scrambling.
But too often, his line has failed him.
Now, if Irsay is to be believed, that’s in the past.
Significant progress finally began last year when former general manager Ryan Grigson, long criticized for failing to upgrade Luck’s protection, invested four of the Colts’ eight draft picks in offensive linemen: center Ryan Kelly (round 1), tackle Le’Raven Clark (round 3), guard/tackle Joe Haeg (round 5) and center Austin Blythe (round 7).
Kelly was one of 11 rookies across the league to start all 16 games. The other three started at least one game. Haeg became the first rookie since Kyle Turley in 1998 to start at three different positions.
Blythe has been waived, but the other three might be fixtures moving forward. Throughout the offseason work, Kelly has been at center, Haeg at right guard and Clark at right tackle. The left-side is set with Anthony Castonzo at tackle and Jack Mewhort at guard.