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How they were built: The Colts offensive line may actually end up being worse than Seattle’s

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This weekend’s Sunday night game features two of the worst o-lines in the league

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys
Anthony Castonzo takes on Taco Charlton during the preseason. I like tacos.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Sunday night game between the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts features two of the three teams in the NFL which completely overhauled their offensive lines for the 2016 season; Both teams had three first year starters on the line in 2016, and not surprisingly, both teams struggled to protect their QB.

Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck each sustained injuries while playing behind the young lines their teams trotted out onto the field last season, and this weekend’s game will feature two of the five least-experienced offensive lines in the league; the Seahawks starters have a combined 130 starts coming into the game and the Colts have a combined 157 starts coming into the game. Just to show how inexperienced those two units are combined, there are several offensive linemen in the NFL who have individually started more games than the total offensive line of either team, including Jahri Evans (172 career starts), Andrew Whitworth (167), Joe Thomas (163), Jason Peters (162) and Donald Penn (159).

And consider that 15 of Seattle and Indy’s starts have come in the last three weeks.

The Offensive Line Coaches

The Colts offensive line is coached by Joe Philbin, who is best known for two things that have nothing to do with coaching an offensive line. Philbin was the offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers when they won Super Bowl XLV and he was also the head coach of the Miami Dolphins during the timeframe that the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito bullying incident transpired.

Philbin began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Tulane in the mid-80s, and spent much of the next decade and a half coaching at smaller schools such as Worcester Polytechnic, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Allegheny, Northeastern, Ohio and Harvard before finally getting offered the opportunity to coach the offensive line for Iowa under Kirk Ferentz in 1999. Philbin held that role for four seasons before transitioning to the NFL as the assistant offensive line coach for Green Bay in 2002. He held that role, along with various other assistant coaching positions for several seasons, before being promoted to the offensive coordinator in 2007 and holding that job for five seasons until becoming the head coach for the Dolphins in 2012.

Similar to what was seen in last week’s breakdown of the offensive line for the Tennessee Titans, after 2015 the Colts demoted their former offensive line coach, Joe Gilbert, to assistant offensive line coach and hired Philbin. Unfortunately for Indy, the results seen on the field have so far not matched the results the Titans have witnessed, but a large reason behind that may be that the Colts have not spent the same kind of draft capital on the offensive line that Tennessee has in recent years.

Since 2010, Indianapolis has drafted 14 offensive linemen, and while it is still too early to make any determinations about the linemen drafted in the last couple of years, of the six drafted between 2010 and 2013, only Anthony Castonzo remains. Of the other five, four of them are out of football and Ben Ijalana is a backup for the Jets.

Draft picks used by the Colts on offensive linemen since 2010

Year▲ Pick Player Career AV Games Started College/Univ
Year▲ Pick Player Career AV Games Started College/Univ
2010 4.129 Jacques McClendon 3 5 Tennessee
2011 2.49 Ben Ijalana 6 13 Villanova
2011 1.22 Anthony Castonzo 41 92 Boston Col.
2012 7.208 Justin Anderson 0 0 Georgia
2013 4.121 Khaled Holmes 4 9 USC
2013 3.86 Hugh Thornton 16 32 Illinois
2014 7.232 Ulrick John 2 3 Georgia St.
2014 2.59 Jack Mewhort 21 43 Ohio St.
2015 7.255 Denzelle Good 9 15 Mars Hill
2016 7.248 Austin Blythe 1 1 Iowa
2016 5.155 Joe Haeg 9 16 North Dakota St.
2016 3.82 Le'Raven Clark 2 3 Texas Tech
2016 1.18 Ryan Kelly 9 16 Alabama
2017 4.137 Zach Banner 0 0 USC
Draft picks used on linemen by Indianapolis since 2010

The Current Offensive Line:

Starting offensive line for the Colts

Position Player Games Started (Career) Acquired
Position Player Games Started (Career) Acquired
LT Anthony Castonzo 92 Drafted 1.22 (2011)
LG Jeremy Vujnovich 3 Undrafted (2013)
C Deyshawn Bond 3 Undrafted (2017)
RG Jack Mewhort 43 Drafted 2.59 (2014)
RT Joe Haeg 16 Drafted 5.155 (2016)
Colts starting line

Manning the left tackle spot for the Colts is Castonzo, whose 92 career starts constitute just under 60% of the starting experience for the entire line. He has been a mainstay, starting all but seven games since being selected with the 22nd overall pick in 2011. He struggled a bit during his first couple of seasons, being credited with allowing 18.5 sacks in his first two seasons (7.5 in 12 starts in 2011 and 11 in 16 starts in 2012), before really figuring things out during his third year in the league. Over the four seasons from 2013 to 2016 he is credited with allowing just 21 sacks, though this season has started out fairly rough

Lining up next to Castonzo at left guard is Jeremy Vujnovich, a player who is the exemplification of what practice squads are made for. Vujnovich went undrafted and unsigned out of LSU in 2013, then spent the entire year out of football before signing with the Packers in 2014, two days after the Cheeseheads lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. (Author’s note: In case anyone forgot, two weeks later the Niners would lose the NFC Championship Game to the Seahawks, in a game Seattle used as a nice little tune up on their way to winning Super Bowl XLVIII.)

Vujnovich went through training camp with Green Bay in 2014, but was waived during final cuts and spent the season on the Packers practice squad. He then resigned with Packers in 2015 and spent the season on their practice squad, then returning the following year only to be waived just after the draft in May. He was picked up by the Colts and spent the majority of the 2016 season on their practice squad. This year, Vujnovich not only managed to survive final cuts for the first time, he took over as the starting left guard, technically a rookie at the ripe age of nearly-27.

At center, they expected 2016 first round pick Ryan Kelly to be leading their line, but Kelly had foot surgery in August and is not expected to play again for at least a couple more weeks. That leaves rookie undrafted free agent Deyshawn Bond scheduled to start at C in the game this weekend, an unenviable position for him to be in with Sheldon Richardson, Michael Bennett and the rest of the Seahawks line looking to rebound after the Titans game.

At right guard, the Colts have their second most experienced lineman, Jack Mewhort. Mewhort was drafted in the second round out of Ohio State in 2014, and immediately took over a starting spot. He struggled bit over his first two seasons, in particular as a rookie, but by the time 2016 arrived he had improved to the point where he did not allow a single sack in any of the ten games he started. Unfortunately for Mewhort, a knee injury ended his 2016 season prematurely and this season has so far been a disaster across the board for the Indy offensive line.

Filling out the starting five is second year right tackle Joe Haeg. As a rookie fifth round draft choice out of North Dakota State in 2016, Haeg started 14 games, allowing six sacks. Haeg lost the RT competition to third-year player Denzelle Good in training camp, but Good promptly suffered a torn ligament in his wrist late in the season-opening loss to the LA Rams. Haeg has stepped back in as the starter for each of the last two games and has performed as one would expect a guy who lost the job in camp to perform. He will likely have his hands full this weekend, in what should be a good matchup for Seattle to exploit.

Wrap Up

In short, the Colts have a very inexperienced line, and they likely have their work cut out for them this weekend against a Seahawks front seven that is among the most talented in the NFL. It could be a long night for Frank Gore and Jacoby Brissett, and it will be an interesting opportunity to watch how both of the young lines perform on the national stage in a game where the loser will have a serious uphill battle to make the playoffs.