Right tackle Jeff Linkenbach started four games last season. He must continue to improve this year with new teammates Anthony Castonzo and Joe Reitz also up front.
Peyton Manning is scared.
He’s scared there’s a possibility he might miss his first game ever due to injury. He’s scared he might let his team down. He’ll probably still be scared even if he does make it back for Sept. 11.
That is, scared for his own health.
Three of the five men charged with guarding and protecting Manning from a knockout blow to the neck have started a combined four games in the NFL. In fact, his entire blindside (the left side of the line) has yet to play a single snap in a regular season NFL game.
What's more, the Colts’ Week 1 opponent, the Houston Texans, feature Mario Williams (8.5 sacks in 13 games last season) and first-round draft pick J.J. Watt (seven sacks as a senior at Wisconsin) on the outside against rookie tackle Anthony Castonzo and second-year player Jeff Linkenbach.
Expectations run very high for Castonzo, and he has shown he is capable of protecting his quarterback during the first three preseason games. However, everything will be different when he steps onto the field at Reliant Stadium with 71,000 fans yelling against him and encouraging Mario Williams to snap Manning in two.
Linkenbach, on the other hand, hasn’t looked quite so good in pass protection. In the Colts’ third preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, Clay Matthews flew past Linkenbach, forcing Curtis Painter into an awkward, rushed and offline throw. Granted, Matthews is one of the premier pass rushers in the league, but Linkenbach failed to get just a hand on him.
Let's say the Texans decide to blitz up the middle, using DeMeco Ryans. The Texans realise that Joe Reitz has never played in a regular season NFL game, you don't think they plan on testing his ability to pick up a blitzing linebacker?
Look for the Texans to consistently challenge Reitz, Linkenbach and Castonzo to see if they are up to muster.
While it’s important for the Colts to get Manning back, he won’t do them much good if the new line allows the Texans to get a clean hit on him. Right now, Manning might be the most fragile and the most scared he’s ever been.
It’s up to this rebuilt offensive line to make sure that their quarterback doesn’t need to be worried about or scared of someone flying in his pocket and lighting him up. This line must prove to Manning he has nothing to be scared of.