Colts return core offensive linemen for first time in Andrew Luck's career

Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is the veteran of the Colts' offensive line. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

INDIANAPOLIS -- For as much as the Indianapolis Colts have emphasized competition for roster spots and being competitive on the field, there's a third 'C' word missing.


That continuity is directed at the offensive line.

After years of dealing with new faces coming in and out of the organization at the start of each season as they struggled to put together a solid foundation up front, quarterback Andrew Luck will return his core offensive linemen from the season before for the first time in his six-year NFL career.

Again, the Colts' $140-million quarterback will finally return the same core group of offensive linemen for the first time in his NFL career.

"If you go through 32 teams, maybe two or three really have it the way they want it on the offensive line," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said. "But getting a group to work together, which our guys have ... that's been one of the most pleasing things walking in this building is watching that group be here every day, work, bond together. Five working together is a lot better than two or three really great players. It's fun to watch that group work together."

The Colts will continue to talk about competition -- as they should -- and that very few starting spots are set, but early indications are the offensive line is a group that's close to being locked down.

It's currently left tackle Anthony Castonzo, left guard Jack Mewhort, center Ryan Kelly, right guard Joe Haeg and right tackle Le'Raven Clark.

That's the group that closed out the 2016 season with the exception of Mewhort, who missed the final three games with a knee injury. Kelly, Haeg and Clark were rookies last season.

To put into perspective how much shuffling of players the Colts have dealt with on the offensive line due to ineffective play and injuries, the Dallas Cowboys, who many consider to have the best offensive line in the NFL, had one group of linemen play 651 snaps together last season. The most any group played together for the Colts last season was just 225 snaps. The Colts used 18 different O-line combinations.

Go back to 2015 and the Cowboys' top offensive line unit played 674 snaps together, and they only used three different combinations that entire season. The most snaps any O-line unit has played together since the Colts selected Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012 is 414 in 2013. They've played at least 16 different combinations in all five of his seasons.

For as much criticism as former general manager Ryan Grigson took for some of his draft picks and free-agent signings during his five years with the organization, what he did do right was put the Colts in a good position with their offensive line. He used half of their eight draft picks on offensive linemen in 2016.

"Ryan did a great job last year really identifying some young players in the draft, especially on the O-line," Ballard said. "As we all saw in this draft, I'm glad he did because this is probably one of the weakest drafts I've ever seen on the offensive line. Playing as a unit is the most important thing on that group. It's not always about one player. It's about those five guys playing together and then matching that with your scheme to make them work."

The foundation has been set on the offensive line, as Castonzo is the veteran of the group at only 28 years old. Ballard selected tackle Zach Banner in the fourth round and also signed veteran guard/center Brian Schwenke during free agency.

But it won't matter that the Colts are returning their core group of offensive linemen if they can't continue to improve, stay healthy and do a better job of protecting Luck. The Colts gave up 44 sacks last season.

"I take it personally every time I watch film and see something I don't like," Castonzo said about the criticism of the group. "That's a personal attack from me, on myself, when I put something on film that I don't like. My goal is to be perfect on every rep, and I think that's our offensive line's goal. When we are not, we do take it personally. Regardless if someone is saying something or not, we realize we've got to get it corrected."