INDIANAPOLIS – In a year the Colts had seven different starting offensive line combinations, it looks like they found their five-man group of the future.
While consistency in the faces and play of the unit wasn’t prevalent throughout 2016, things began to change in the season’s final month.
Where things really began to settle was with the insertion of rookie Le’Raven Clark into the lineup at right tackle.
After being inactive for eight of the team’s first 12 games, Clark started the final three weeks of the year.
With Clark joining fellow rookies Ryan Kelly (center) and Joe Haeg (right guard) in the lineup, the sack numbers continued to decrease for Andrew Luck, while the run game stayed away from the negative plays.
“Certainly I think we are a better offensive line than where we started (the year) at,” Kelly said in late December.
As the Colts peek ahead to 2017, they should be intrigued by the personnel in place.
Kelly started all 16 games as a rookie, ending the revolving door of snappers to Andrew Luck.
It appears right guard is the home for Haeg. After becoming the NFL’s first rookie to start at three different line spots since 1998, Haeg was the team’s right guard to close out the season.
Clark was an unknown entering December. But with Jack Mewhort heading to injured reserve, the Colts had an opening up front. Clark was thrown into the fire and held his own.
With those three rookies joining the steady left side of Mewhort (left guard) and Anthony Castonzo (left tackle), the arrow for the offensive line is pointing much closer to up than it was this time last year.
“It’s not like next year you are going to have second-year players who haven’t played at all,” Castonzo said of the experience the rookies received in 2016.
“These are guys who have seen a lot of action against a lot of really good players.”
Castonzo believes more of a commitment to the run game aided the line late in 2016.
The Colts finished last season with the fourth fewest negative run plays in the NFL.
Bolstering personnel to the line this offseason is at nowhere near the same level as it was last year.
How can the line take another step in the right direction next year?
It starts with the magical word for an offensive line group? Continuity.
The Colts had seven different starting line combinations last season, yet still had the NFL’s 10th ranked offense.
What would a higher percentage of continuity do for the Colts?
The Atlanta Falcons had the same starting offensive line for every game this season. Their offense was the league’s 2nd most productive group and they are a game away from Super Bowl LI.
If the stability can be there next year for the Colts, the play up front could finally reach the level needed to protect the franchise and allow the Indy offense to flourish.
“There’s not going to be anybody wide eyed at any point (in 2017),” Castonzo said of next year’s offensive line.
“It’s going to be young and experienced, which is a good combination.”