Whether or not the Indianapolis Colts can score points next year is going to depend largely on their offensive line.
Of course, there's that Andrew Luck kid, too.
With a rookie quarterback under center, does it really matter that the Colts plan to unleash a run-centric offense or a pass-heavy one?
The fact is, it's all going to start up front.
Luck is a special prospect, there's really no doubt about that. But he can't do it on his own. The offensive line is going to dictate the flow of the offense, regardless of what offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has in mind.
If he wants to pound the rock with fourth-year veteran running back Donald Brown, then he'll need the line to create space for the UConn alumnus. Brown isn't a freakish runner in the mold of an Adrian Peterson, and he isn't a bullish Marshawn Lynch type. Brown is a smaller tailback that looks to take advantage of open spaces with his deceptive speed.
On the other hand, Arians may surprise us all.
We could theoretically see Luck dropping back 30-plus times a game, a la Sam Bradford's rookie season. In this scenario, the offensive line line will be the only thing keeping Luck from looking as horrendous as Blaine Gabbert.
It will probably be somewhere in the middle. Per Pro Football Talk:
Quarterback Andrew Luck took it an extra step. “With three tight ends, do you put an extra safety in [the box] and try to stop the run or do you leave your regular defense in?” Luck said. “How do you do it? How do you match-up with those guys? Do you put a linebacker on them to cover them when they split out wide? So I think it creates mismatches.”
In any case, Indianapolis tackle Anthony Castonzo is at a crossroads in his career.
If he can protect the team's prized rookie signal-caller this season, Castonzo could solidify himself as the Colts left tackle for years to come. Any struggles he may endure, though, will be magnified simply because Luck is so highly valued.
The Colts won't take any chances with the man out of Stanford, even if that means saying goodbye to another former first-rounder.
Another player with a great chance to make a name for himself is Samson Satele. The former second-round selection is already 27 years old, but could potentially form a partnership with Luck that has major staying power.
After all, Luck and Satele's respective predecessors had a pretty decent relationship (via espn.com).
Other players worth keeping an eye on are Winston Justice, Jeff Linkenbach and George Foster. Justice was essentially brought in to replace Linkenbach, and we'll see if he can do a better job at the right tackle position.
Foster is a former first-round pick who could end up stealing Linkenbach's roster spot if he shows up big in training camp.
Ben Ijalana is one of the players I'm most interested in seeing this fall. He's been a mystery to me since being drafted, and I'm excited to see whether he really puts it all together this year. If he does the Colts interior line could really surprise some people.
And regardless of how they plan to do it, the Colts will need strong offensive line play if they want to score a respectable number of points in 2012.