INDIANAPOLIS – In their most important game of the season, the Colts will be without their most important player.
And the return of Anthony Castonzo will not happen this season, for however long it lasts.
The ankle injury Castonzo suffered in a half-speed drill last Thursday has not healed enough for him to return this season, Frank Reich announced on Wednesday. Castonzo will have season-ending surgery on his injured right ankle on Wednesday.
“We gave AC some time, but it’s not cooperating,” Reich said on Wednesday.
“(The injury is) something different that I’ve not heard before. The good news is the procedure we feel good about. It’s not anything that is career-ending, but it’s a funky injury that I have not been aware of before.”
Reich would not reveal the Colts’ plan without Castonzo, but those plans will be worked out in practice this week.
Now, the Colts did get RT-Braden Smith back to work on Wednesday, so they should have at least 4 of their normal 5 starters up front.
But no one means more to this team than Castonzo.
In his career, Castonzo’s presence on the team means this team scores about 4-5 points more per game. Their record with Castonzo would be equivalent to about a 5 or 6-win difference for an entire season.
The Colts’ most logical choice from a continuity standpoint would be going with Quenton Nelson at left tackle, especially with getting him 3 practice days at that spot this week.
More adequate options are available at guard—to then fill-in for Nelson—in Danny Pinter, Jake Eldernkamp or possibly Joey Hunt (who is on the COVID-19 list). It was Hunt who filled in at left guard against the Raiders when Nelson moved over to left tackle.
In those handful of snaps Nelson played at left tackle, the Colts were pleased with how the All-Pro looked there.
“We knew that if we put him out there he is the kind of player that would rise to the occasion,” Reich said earlier this month when reviewing the Raiders film. “Looking at the tape of the handful of snaps that he got in there, it looked good. His pass-sets actually looked really good. It’s not surprising, but I just knew that he would be up for the challenge.”
Offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni agreed with that analysis.
“He did a good job when he went in there,” Sirianni said of Nelson’s left tackle effort against the Raiders in emergency duty. “He did a really good job when he went in there. He looked the part, he fit the part. He did his job. That’s not easy to do and he did it well for our first series. Really, a credit to him because he can do a lot of things.”
Per NFL Network, the Colts are also reportedly signing veteran tackle Jared Veldheer (113 career starts), with the intention of dressing him on Sunday. Veldheer hasn’t played in the NFL this season but did start in a playoff game for Green Bay last season. Veldheer did play for offensive line coach Chris Strausser in Denver in 2018, when he started 12 games.
One benefit of plugging him in at left tackle is that position isn’t as taxing mentally as other spots on the offensive line. Oftentimes a left tackle is simply left on an island or has a one-man responsibility for a given play, and not dealing with as much communication as more of the interior options.
Would that aid Veldheer in trying to play, despite not being with the Colts until this week? Veldheer’s signing became official on Thursday morning, so he will get two practice days in before Sunday.
Will Holden, who filled in for Castonzo on Sunday against Pittsburgh, isn’t available after hurting his ankle against the Steelers.
Other tackle options include Chaz Green on the active roster and practice squad guys J’Marcus Webb and undrafted free agent Carter O’Donnell.
Moving Braden Smith to left tackle would be taking a guy who has never played on the left side of the line in his college or pro career and shifting him.
In short, Nelson—with 3 full days of practice this week (assuming his back is good to go) should be the most seamless answer, although if Veldheer can prove it enough mentally and physically, he could make some logical sense, too.