INDIANAPOLIS: Unlike wide receiver, it’s a need that Chris Ballard has been very vocal in talking about.
“You need a collection on the O-line. You need 8, at all points,” the Colts GM said earlier this offseason.
In Ballard’s tenure with the Colts, they have not shied away from committing substantial numbers to their offensive line depth. They’ve had stretches where 10 offensive linemen occupied spots on the 53-man roster, despite just 7 OL guys dressing on game day.
“It’s going to have to be addressed, especially from a depth (standpoint),” he said.
Nearly a month into free agency, a re-sign of Le’Raven Clark is the only ‘addition’ made to the offensive line.
For a second straight offseason, the Colts are in the terrific situation of not having to worry about their starting offensive line.
The starting unit of LT-Anthony Castonzo, LG-Quenton Nelson, C-Ryan Kelly, RG-Mark Glowinski, RT-Braden Smith is back for another year together.
But the need to find OL No. 6 and OL No. 7 up front remains, and the answers aren’t obvious.
First, and the Colts know this, the rare bill of health the Colts had for their starting offensive line last season cannot be relied upon again in 2020.
Let’s look at the two Super Bowl teams from last year—Kansas City and San Francisco—in how they dealt with rather normal offensive line attrition compared to the Colts.
-Chiefs: Needed 15 total starts from backup offensive linemen. Starting line played 79.4% of possible snaps.
-49ers: Needed 18 total starts from backup offensive linemen. Starting line played 76.2% of possible snaps.
-Colts: Needed 0 starts from reserve offensive linemen. Starting line played 97.5% of possible snaps.
So, the Colts have to enter 2020 with the thinking that they will need multiple backup offensive linemen for some stretch of the season. And that need to protect at all costs has only elevated with the slow footed Philip Rivers under center.
Currently, those backup depth answers are a bit bleak.
Here are the current reserve linemen on the Colts’ 71-man roster (should grow to 90 following the draft).
Guards/Centers: Javon Patterson, Jake Eldrenkamp, Chaz Green (7 starts)
Tackles: Le’Raven Clark (12 starts), Andrew Donnal (6 starts), Brandon Hitner, Cedrick Lang, Travis Vornkahl
Not a single one of those guys played an offensive snap in the NFL last season.
In the interior, Patterson was a 7th round pick in 2019, but tore his ACL in the spring of his rookie campaign. Eldrenkamp was a UDFA in 2019, but the Colts liked him enough to keep him on their practice squad for the vast majority of last season.
Outside, Clark was re-signed to a 1-year deal last month.
While many fans are screaming for wide receiver and quarterback to get the early draft attention this month, don’t forget about this current depth chart situation, at a spot Ballard has never shied away from.