INDIANAPOLIS – Based off Chris Ballard’s tone this offseason, the Colts are open to the idea of moving Quenton Nelson, or even Braden Smith to left tackle.
Ballard views his current offensive line personnel like this: He loves the main 4 guys (Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski, Braden Smith), who have been starting for this team since October 2018.
He wants to add to that quartet, and then whoever emerges as that 5th guy, no matter the position, will make up the starting offensive line in Week 1 of 2021.
“I think we have 4 really good O-linemen,” Ballard says of the four names above.
“By the time we get to training camp, we will find the right position for each one of them to play, where we play good football.”
No more Anthony Castonzo means the Colts are losing a guy who helped the offense produce about three points more per game when he was in the lineup.
Over the last decade, Castonzo at left tackle meant the Colts were a better than .500 football team. When Castonzo wasn’t blocking the blindside, the Colts only won one of every four contests.
Without any up-and-coming tackle on the roster, the Colts are left asking several internal questions about how to replace Castonzo?
Move Nelson, who has played just 10 total snaps at left tackle since high school, from his All-Pro spot at left guard? Nelson did enter college at Notre Dame wanting to play left tackle, but ended up as a guard there.
Flip Smith to left tackle, despite him only playing on the right side of the line since high school?
Find a stopgap in free agency?
Invest an early draft pick for a Day 1 rookie starter at left tackle?
When it comes to Nelson, Ballard’s thinking is very similar to what Jeff Saturday pointed out in the ‘opportunity cost department.
“Here will be the hard thing for us with (Nelson), so you’ve got an All-Pro guard, probably the best in the league at his position,” Ballard says. “Does it make your team better moving him out of that spot? Because he’s so good at it. And can the replacement level player that you put in there, he’s not going to play at Quenton’s level. But will Quenton’s play at the left tackle level that makes it worth it?”
That’s where the likes of Danny Pinter, a 5th round pick in 2020, could enter the mix. The Colts believe Pinter’s future is the interior of the offensive line and the staff liked what the rookie showed in limited action this past season. If Nelson moves to left tackle, Pinter is the likely favorite to slide in at left guard.
Swapping Smith to the left side would bring a new set of questions, not only for his personal abilities, but also for what then happens at right tackle.
“This is the way an O-line coach put it to me, ‘It’s like playing golf when you are a right-handed golfer and you switch him to left-handed,’” Ballard said of the challenges Smith would face in such a switch. “Eric Fisher played right tackle our first year in Kansas City and then we kicked him over to the left side. It can be done. It can absolutely be done. But, who are we putting in at right tackle?
“Those are the questions we have to answer.”
As if the Colts own season wasn’t enough, the Super Bowl was another reminder of how important an offensive line group extending to multiple depth spots is critical.
First though, the Colts have to answer the big question above.
“It’s all on the table,” Ballard says. “By the time we hit September and our first game, we will have those 5 sorted out and I think we will have good answers.”