Indianapolis Colts' Interior Line Biggest Concern After First Preseason Game

Rivers McCownNFL AnalystAugust 7, 2014

Indianapolis Colts center Khaled Holmes (62) is helped off the field after an injury in the first quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The Indianapolis Colts kept their first team offense on the field just one series in the preseason opening 13-10 loss against the New York Jets. But even with just a small chunk of playing time, the Colts couldn't avoid injury.

First-string center Khaled Holmes, the unknown quality who the Colts believed could replace Samson Satele in the middle, went down with what appeared to be a left ankle injury on the first series. Holmes slammed the turf with his arms in frustration before limping off the field. 

There was already a lot of uncertainty in the middle of the Indianapolis offensive line coming into the preseason. The positives pretty much ended with "well, these guys can't be much worse than what was in place last season." The departed Mike McGlynn led all left guards in blown blocks per Football Outsiders Almanac 2014. Then-rookie Hugh Thornton led all right guards in blown blocks, so McGlynn didn't feel left out. Satele was unceremoniously released. 

Indianapolis Colts Blown Blocks, 2013
PlayerBlown Pass BlocksBlown Run BlocksTotal
Mike McGlynn29.73.533.2
Hugh Thornton21.28.029.2
Samson Satele9.33.012.3
Football Outsiders

According to Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star, the injury to Holmes does not appear to be season-ending. However, if Holmes misses any time, the Colts may be faced with some unenviable decisions. 

The depth chart at center behind Holmes consists of a pair of undrafted free agents signed this offseason: Jonotthan Harrison of Florida, and Indiana State's F.N. Lutz II. Harrison replaced Holmes and immediately launched two shotgun snaps into the stratosphere to end a pair of drives -- he was also bailed out by Matt Hasselbeck on another poor snap.

If the Colts deem Harrison unready to be an NFL starter, which seems likely, the only other players on their roster with NFL experience in the interior are Joe Reitz and Lance Louis.

Donald Thomas' season-ending quadriceps injury, suffered earlier in training camp, depleted the only functional depth Indianapolis had. Thomas, who signed a four-year, $14 million deal with the Colts in the 2013 offseason, played only 70 offensive snaps before blowing out his quad in 2013. Barring a veteran free-agent signing (Kyle Cook?) the Colts might enter the season playing a youngster with very little experience in the middle of the line.  

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 16: Second round draft pick Jack Mewhort #75 of the Indianapolis Colts works out during a rookie minicamp at the team complex on May 16, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It's not as if the Colts were totally shocked that their interior line was going to need some help this offseason. Indianapolis tried to get out in front of this problem when they spent a second-round pick on Ohio State's Jack Mewhort. His first preseason game was fairly rough.

The big mistake came when he pulled to his left and didn't get the corner quick enough to keep Dan Herron upright in the backfield, but he also had problems generating much movement against the Jets first-teamers. 

The first team interior line struggled to find running room for Trent Richardson or Dan Herron again -- the backs combined for four carries of three yards or less in the first quarter, including two negative-yardage plays. Richardson had a nice first carry, but again the mental aspects of the game seemed to keep his natural instincts as a runner from taking over. 

Sometimes it can be hard to project exactly what you're going to get from youth that hasn't played many snaps. Holmes handled just 12 offensive snaps in 2013, and Mewhort is a rookie. Thornton played 81 percent of the Colts snaps in 2013, but as we went over above, was part of the problem. 

The most you can hope for in the NFL when you're turning a position over to someone new is that they at least have some semblance of pedigree. The three linemen above were fourth-, second-, and third-round picks respectively. If Holmes is indeed out for some time, the Colts could be faced with starting someone fresh off the street. 

Whenever a unit plays as poorly as the Indianapolis interior line did last season, it's very easy to tag them with that performance and send them on their way. After all, by definition, it's hard to not improve on what Indianapolis got out of the middle of the offensive line last season. 

However, Colts fans should have a little trepidation about that unit as we near the season. Injuries and raw players aren't a combination that leads to success often. 

The cure may be worse than the disease.