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INDIANAPOLIS – The fact that Braden Smith looks to be an answer to the long-term future of the Indianapolis Colts offensive line isn’t a surprise.
But the position where Smith is an answer at is a surprise.
When the Colts drafted Smith, who stands 6-6 and 305 pounds, with the 37th overall pick last April they made it clear right away that guard would be his position at the NFL level.
While Smith’s impressive frame indicated tackle could be in his future, the Colts thought guard, where he started 39-of-41 games at Auburn, was his best position in the long-term.
Things change in the NFL, and they certainly do along the offensive line.
And 11 games into his NFL career, Smith looks to be the answer at right tackle moving forward. He hasn’t allowed a sack in sealing the right-side edge since the start of October.
“I’m really glad that this organization has kind of been able to backtrack a little bit and really look at his tools because his God-given ability is well-suited for out on the edge,” veteran Matt Slauson says of the man he lined up next to in Smith’s first NFL start back in Week Five.
“He’s an incredible athlete, he’s got plenty of length to play out there. You just look how he stands, you can tell that he’s a great, great athlete. The way he moves in space, he’s a big, strong, long guy, with enough of that quick-twitch to match up out there on the edge.”
One thing that always stood out to Colts GM Chris Ballard was Smith’s get-off the ball.
That’s why Smith’s ability to be a powerful run blocker was thought to be a great fit at right guard, opposite fellow rookie guard Quenton Nelson.
Veteran left tackle Anthony Castonzo sees why the Colts initially thought guard for Smith, and why the rookie has also proven himself out at tackle.
“He’s stout and strong enough to be a guard and take up space in there, but he also has the feet to be able to play tackle,” Castonzo says of Smith ”He has a lot of gifts.”
At the NFL Combine in February, Smith was one of the more athletic linemen.
Ballard and the Colts felt like Smith was the last starting-level guard on the board in April’s Draft, so they ended up taking him one selection after Darius Leonard.
As the 2018 offseason unfolded, it didn’t look like the Colts were going to use Smith much.
First, the team needed to see more from Smith before inserting the rookie into starting reps.
Also, the team was pleased with some of their veteran pieces ahead of Smith on the depth chart.
But things change.
And it’s been for the better when you are looking at the long-term, and the present, view of the Colts.
“He doesn’t get fazed,” Frank Reich says of his quiet right tackle. “He’s a dominant run blocker. Just the adjustment from a pass setting standpoint from guard to tackle is a pretty big jump and he’s handled it very well and he doesn’t get rattled. When he makes a mistake, which he hasn’t made a ton, but when he does, he’s pretty poised and gets it corrected pretty quickly.”
Any early concerns Reich had of using Smith out at right tackle were quickly put to rest.
“It was like, ‘Okay, this isn’t an easy transition,’” Reich said of his first thoughts of moving Smith over to right tackle in Week Five, when the Colts were on the road in New England on a short week. “But we saw enough in training camp. (Offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo) did a good job of cross training him and we saw enough on tape that gave us some confidence. Really, what had happened is early on we probably did a few things more to help him early on and then gradually as you see his game growing and him continuing to produce then you kind of take the reins off.”
Those reins are off as Smith has yet to allow a sack in 6 NFL starts at a position he started at just twice in his college career.
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