Throughout the offseason, one of the most speculated upon units of the 2012 Colts has been the offensive line. Longtime starter Jeff Saturday is gone at center, Ryan Diem has retired, and plenty of new faces and names have been brought in this offseason.
With the reworking of the roster on Colts.com last week, more speculation has come out, and now is as good of a time as any to begin doing our best to predict the opening day roster for the Colts. As we begin, we look to the offensive line, completely shaken up from last year.
Here are the current offensive linemen on the roster, listed by Colts.com's position listings:
Center: Samson Satele, Jake Kirkpatrick, A.Q. Shipley, Zane Taylor
Guard: Ben Ijalana, Joe Reitz, Seth Olsen, Hayworth Hicks, Jason Foster, Justin Anderson
Guard/Center: Mike McGlynn
Tackle: Winston Justice, Anthony Castonzo, Jeff Linkenbach, Mike Tepper, Steven Baker
Here is how I project our starting lineup:
While this could change, this seems to be the most logical conclusion, based on the hints given by the Colts changes on their roster.
As has been noted multiple times by now, Samson Satele had two of the top ten game grades by a center last year by Pro Football Focus, as well as being their 5th best run blocker among centers. Satele has a lot of potential, and his progress will be one to watch throughout the season. He should be the unquestioned starter going into Week One, as the rest of the centers are all second year guys with little to no experience.
However, Satele brings some questions as well as potential. While PFF loved Satele's two games, they weren't so high on the rest of his season. Although Satele was graded well on run blocking, he was ranked negatively overall in pass blocking, 21st among centers. Satele also was the most penalized center, getting tagged with eight penalties (next center had six).
Meanwhile, Jeff Saturday was ranked 5th in pass blocking, and 7th in run blocking, while receiving the 5th best grade overall. Satele will have large shoes to fill, even if Saturday is slowing down. I think Satele has potential, and will anchor a revamped ground game, but he needs to improve on his pass protection to build a solid pocket for our rookie quarterback.
As for the other centers, I expect all three to be cut at training camp, with one of them to stay on the practice squad. Jake Kirkpatrick was intriguing last year, but we'll see how camp pans out in 2012. The reason I don't expect the Colts to keep any backups is due to McGlynn's versatility, and his listing as a G/C.
As of now, I expect two of the Colts' young hopefuls, Joe Reitz and Ben Ijalana to start at guard.
While I believe that Ijalana would make a very good right tackle (he looked very good against Adrian Clayborn last season at left tackle), the Colts' listing of Ijalana at guard hints at a possible plan to use him at guard this season. I wouldn't be surprised to see him at tackle next season, or even this season as it progresses, but I expect to see him starting at guard Week One.
As for Reitz, many people seem to have forgotten about him when talking abou the 2012 offensive line. Too many people forget that Reitz did a very good job for the Colts in 2011, and that he was essentially a rookie. Him and Anthony Castonzo were the primary bases of a solid left side of the line in 2011, where the Colts averaged over five yards per carry last year. Reitz did a pretty good job of pass protection last season, and while his run blocking could use improvement, he was the most consistent effective outside of Jeff Saturday.
Mike McGlynn I expect to see as a backup, as the Colts' brass use him to spell the guards and centers (hence the G/C label). This makes more sense to me, as he has played both positions, but is below average. He is a decent backup however, at both. He is a very poor pass protector, but is a pretty good run blocker, and I could see him spelling either of the guards when fatigue/injury dictate it.
As for the rest of the guards, I expect Anderson to make the roster, and could see Seth Olsen or Hayworth Hicks sticking as well (Olsen because he has flashed potential before, and Hicks because he's a mammoth). I don't see Foster making the roster, and overall only expect two back up guards, although three is a possibility.
Anthony Castonzo, the Colts' 2011 first round draft pick, should still have a firm grip on the starting left tackle position. He had a promising rookie year, although it was derailed by injury. With a full offseason to recover, it should be a given (although nothing ever is) that he holds on to his spot.
Winston Justice should begin as the starter at right tackle. If the Colts decide to go Ijalana-Justice on the right side (the other option would be McGlynn-Ijalana), then Justice is the no-brain starter on the right. This makes a little more sense than having McGlynn start, since McGlynn can backup two positions, while Justice can only back up one. Justice is also a more viable starter than McGlynn, in my opinion.
Justice needs to improve his pass protection (get back to his 2009 form), but he should fit well on th line as a run blocker.
I expect Jeff Linkenbach to stay on the roster as a back up tackle as well; while he is a poor starter, he is a decent backup and can play either side. The Colts list Mike Tepper as a tackle, but he's played guard in the past. If they truly think he can play both, he may stay as depth. I don't expect Steven Baker to make the roster.
Here are my projections as of now:
Starters: Castonzo, Reitz, Satele, Ijalana, Justice
Depth (Good chance to make roster): Linkenbach (T), Anderson (G), McGlynn (G/C)
Maybe Make it: Tepper (T), Olsen (G), Hicks (G)
Doubt it (Possibly Practice Squad): Kirkpatrick (C), Shipley (C), Taylor (C), Foster (G), Baker (T)
The line as a whole (starters and depth) should be better than last year's, which was miles better (when healthy) than 2010. Although the center position likely will be worse, the right side of the line should be much improved, and Castonzo and Reitz' experience should cause them to improve as well.