Indianapolis Colts: Gosder Cherilus

I was asked over the weekend (via @TSN_JRodriguez) what I thought the Indianapolis Colts' starting lineup would look like if they didn’t make any more roster moves outside of the draft.



More roster moves will be made outside of the draft before training camp opens in late July, but here is who I think would start if the Colts had to play a game today (with a healthy roster).

Offense
QB: Andrew Luck
RB: Trent Richardson
FB: Stanley Havili
WR: T.Y. Hilton
WR: Reggie Wayne
TE: Dwayne Allen

LT: Anthony Castonzo
LG: Donald Thomas
C: Khaled Holmes
RG: Hugh Thornton
RT: Gosder Cherilus

Defense
DE: Cory Redding
NT: Arthur Jones
RE: Ricky Jean Francois

OLB: Erik Walden
ILB: D’Qwell Jackson
ILB: Jerrell Freeman
OLB: Robert Mathis

CB: Vontae Davis
CB: Greg Toler
S: LaRon Landry
S: Delano Howell

I went with Holmes at center because I left the NFL owners' meetings last week with the impression the Colts want Holmes to be the starter, with Phil Costa available if Holmes gets injured or struggles.
 
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts possibly acquired their starting center Thursday when they signed Phil Costa, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys.

There’s plenty of time left in the offseason for the Colts to add another center to the roster if they choose to.

But for the sake of pure entertainment – and to further make some fans upset over the Costa signing – let’s take a look at the offensive line as if the Colts would be playing a game this Sunday afternoon.

Center: Costa, Khaled Holmes, Thomas Austin

Guard: Donald Thomas, Hugh Thornton, Zach Allen, Joe Reitz

Tackle: Anthony Castonzo, Gosder Cherilus, Xavier Nixon

Costa, Thomas, Thornton, Castonzo and Cherilus would be the likely starters. That group should be able to do an adequate job – at least better than last season’s group – of protecting quarterback Andrew Luck and blocking for the running backs.

I’m not sold that those will be the only three centers the Colts look at. It’s not in general manager Ryan Grigson’s blood to sit still and not look to make more moves. It likely won’t be Alex Mack, but don’t be surprised if there’s another center on the roster before the start of training camp.
As you know, the Indianapolis Colts wisely did not use their franchise tag on any of their players by Monday's 4 p.m. deadline.

Cornerback Vontae Davis is still a priority for the Colts to re-sign.

Looking ahead to 2015, linebacker Jerrell Freeman and offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo will be the Colts’ two primary free agents. They're the only two players currently on the roster who I could see Indianapolis using the franchise tag on next year if it can’t agree on a new deal with them.

Re-signing both players isn’t even a question. It’s a necessity.

Castonzo teamed with fellow tackle Gosder Cherilus to have an impressive season blocking on the edges and helping cut down on the number of times quarterback Andrew Luck was sacked (41 in 2012, 32 in 2013). Right and left tackle isn't an issue for the Colts, it's the interior part of the offensive line that's the problem.

Freeman has made an easy transition to the NFL from the Canadian Football League. He has led the Colts in tackles each of the past two seasons with 145 and 126, respectively.

Castonzo is scheduled to make $2.5 million next season and Freeman will make $576,000. The franchise tag for an offensive lineman this year was $11.6 million. It was $11.4 million for linebackers.
INDIANAPOLIS -- At some point, offensive lineman Jonathan Martin and the Miami Dolphins will part ways from what's turned into a disastrous relationship.

Martin
And when that happens, whatever team acquires Martin next will be getting a hard-working player, according to one of his former teammates at Stanford.

"He's physical at the line of scrimmage, smart guy, understands the offense well," Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener said. "I think he would be a great teammate for anybody to have."

Ted Wells' report last week determined that Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito and two of his teammates bullied Martin.

Fleener stayed in touch with Martin via text message.

"I didn't really look at it as who was going to be wrong and who was going to be right, I just wanted the best for Jonathan regardless of who was wrong or right," Fleener said. "I didn't talk to him about the specifics or anything like that because I felt like it wasn't my place. If he wanted to talk about it that was fine. I really just wanted to make sure he was doing alright."

Martin has ties with a number of Colts.

He and Fleener, receiver Griff Whalen, quarterback Andrew Luck, safety Delano Howell and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton were all together at Stanford.

The Colts are in need of help on the interior part of the offensive line. But Martin plays tackle and the Colts are set there with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus.

"I don't really campaign for anybody," Fleener said. "I think that's up to our GM [Ryan Grigson] and coaching staff. They've done an awesome job putting together the team. If Coach [Chuck Pagano] or Mr. Grigson asked me, I would have nothing but support for Jonathan."

Mailbag: Power run or up-tempo attack?

February, 15, 2014
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A scout's take on the Colts

February, 6, 2014
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With the NFL combine just weeks away and free agency starting shortly after, I caught up with NFL Insider Matt Williamson, a former Browns scout, this week to talk about the areas the Indianapolis Colts need to address.

Talking to somebody not affiliated with the Colts helps put things into better perspective.

You wouldn’t have thought the Colts finished with an 11-5 record and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs based off the areas Williamson believes Indianapolis needs to upgrade.

“I think they have plenty to be honest with you,” he said. “I know [general manager] Ryan Grigson is highly regarded and he’s turned this team around and all those great things, but I have not been impressed at all with what he’s done in free agency. They had all that money last year, but I don’t know if they spent it wisely. They still have tons of needs. He took over a roster that was dreadful but they didn’t get any real answers other than [offensive tackle] Gosder Cherilus.”

Williamson on offense
“I think the interior of that offensive line needs a lot of work. I’m not so sure receiver isn’t a need. Running back, do you count on [Trent] Richardson? Do you re-sign [Donald] Brown? I think Brown is going to demand a little bit of money at least. I’m sure they had zero intention of re-signing him when they traded for Richardson. At least they get [Vick] Ballard back.”

So basically Williamson is saying the Colts need help everywhere except quarterback, tight end and offensive tackle.

Williamson on the defense
“The defense is going to be worse. I look at the defense now and think they need everything. There’s not one spot that’s a total mess, but there’s not one spot that they’re really set at either outside of [linebackers] Robert Mathis and Jerrell Freeman. I like Vontae Davis a lot. He’s going to be expense to bring back. They want to play a lot of man coverage. So you need him. He hasn’t been a superstar, but he’s been good enough.

Antoine Bethea is up for free agency. He’s a quality player. He leaves and leaves a big hole.”
 This was one of the questions I received for the Colts mailbag last week. I had to check in with ESPN.com Dolphins reporter James Walker to get a better indication of what Martin’s status is with the team before discussing him. Walker said the expectations are for the Dolphins to part ways with Martin in some fashion but of course there's no guarantee of that.

Let’s go ahead and assume the Dolphins find a way to go in a different direction with Martin. He would have to slide to guard because the Colts are set at tackle with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus, who both had good seasons.

One thing you do have to worry about: Will there be any players inside the locker room who question Martin's toughness? That may be the case in most locker rooms.

There’s obviously the Stanford connection with Andrew Luck, Griff Whalen, Coby Fleener and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. They all spoke highly of Martin publicly and privately when asked about him after the news broke about what was reportedly happening in Miami between him and Richie Incognito. The Colts approach their locker room with a family attitude and the players respect Luck, so his voice and opinion carries a lot of weight. So I don't think there would be any issues with Martin and the Colts. It would be a good fit if he can play guard.

But as of right now, Martin is still a member of the Miami Dolphins.

Indianapolis Colts season wrap-up

January, 15, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 8
Preseason Power Ranking: 10

Biggest surprise: The questions were valid. Was linebacker Robert Mathis' production a product of having sack-machine Dwight Freeney playing on the other side? Could Mathis still be an impact player without Freeney? Mathis silenced the naysayers when he led the league in sacks with 19.5, including seven strip sacks. Mathis didn't hide the fact that he wanted to quiet the doubters. What made his season even more special is that he did it without much help elsewhere, as the Colts had only 42 sacks as a team. Mathis is one of the front-runners to be the league's defensive player of the year.

Biggest disappointment: Safety LaRon Landry was supposed to have the same kind of impact Bob Sanders had when he played for the Colts. That's why general manager Ryan Grigson signed him to four-year, $24 million contract. Landry was good when he was able to come up with the big hits or touchdown-saving tackles, but it was too often that he ended up whiffing on a play. The plays on which he missed running back Jamaal Charles on a touchdown run in the regular-season game against Kansas City and New England's LeGarrette Blount on his touchdown run last weekend are two examples that quickly come to mind. It also doesn't help that Landry missed four games because of injury this season.

Biggest need: Help on both lines -- offensive and defensive -- should be at the top of Grigson's list during the offseason. The Colts are set at offensive tackle with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus. Donald Thomas will be back to take one of the guard spots after he missed most of the season with a quad injury, but the other guard spot and center could use upgrades. The Colts need a defensive tackle who can clog the middle of the line.

Team MVP: This is a no-brainer. Quarterback Andrew Luck was mentioned as a league MVP candidate at one point in the season. The second-year quarterback overcame injuries to five key offensive starters -- including future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne -- to cut his interceptions in half, increase his completion percentage and throw the same number of touchdown passes despite 52 fewer attempts. Take Luck out of the lineup and the Colts would have won maybe six games this season.

 
Andrew LuckAndrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsColts QB Andrew Luck recovers a fumble to score a fourth-quarter touchdown from 5 yards out.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis quarterback coach Clyde Christensen and backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, with the urging of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, gathered with starter Andrew Luck at the team hotel on the eve of their wild-card game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

This wasn't one these meetings where they gathered in a dark room to watch some more game film. It was more of a heart-to-heart talk between the quarterback coach, the veteran quarterback and the franchise player.

Christensen wanted to make sure Luck wasn't too amped up for his second career playoff game.

"Clyde compared it to the Indianapolis 500," Hasselbeck said. "Don't come out too fast and do something stupid early in the game that takes us out of the race. Ironically, we started well. Then things changed for a little bit."

The Colts looked like they were going to crash out early and have their season end in embarrassment at Lucas Oil Stadium. Luck, the kid who never gets rattled, lost some of his composure as the interceptions increased and the deficit grew.

Then he reverted back to the quarterback who all too often told his teammates not to think about losing because they wouldn't stop playing until the clock had all zeroes on it.

In what's become the norm for Luck during his young career, he shook off his three interceptions and did something that's happened only one other time in playoff history, leading the Colts back from a 28-point deficit to beat the Chiefs 45-44.

"He's a second-year guy, so technically he's still a kid in the league, but he plays like a grown man," Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. "As long as we have 12, we have a chance."

As crazy as it might sound, the fact Luck led the Colts to the come-from-behind victory isn't surprising. The Colts have won seven games in which they've trailed by double-digits in 34 games as Luck as their quarterback.

It's the 28-point deficit they came back from that's surprising. That's the second-largest comeback in playoff history. Luck finished 29-of-45 for 443 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

He capped off the comeback when he took a step up in the pocket and found receiver T.Y. Hilton streaking downfield for a 64-yard touchdown with less than five minutes left in the game.

"He kept telling us, even at 38-10, 'We're going to win this game,'" offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo said.

Luck has never been one to show much emotion when things go wrong during the game. But there he was, slapping both hands on the ground as he lay there after one of his interceptions and slapping his hands together as he ran off the field after throwing his third interception.

That's how bad things were going for the Colts and their franchise player. They looked like they were on their way to another one-and-done in the playoffs.

"Yeah, I was disappointed in myself, angry," Luck said. "Really felt like I was letting the team down, especially after I think we got a little momentum on some of those, then I go up there and throw a pick and sort of set everything back. I was angry. You got to flush it. You got to forget about it."

You would have never known Luck made those mistakes when he told his teammates to stay calm because they still had a chance to win the game, despite the large deficit.

As crazy as it sounds, it was all about patience despite the 28-point hole.

"He's not giving you a bunch of bulls--- when he says that stuff," Castonzo said. "At no point does he not believe we're not going to win. He's led us on a lot of comebacks for a reason. The guy does not freak out."

There was some luck involved in this comeback. After running back Donald Brown fumbled, the ball bounced off of center Samson Satele's helmet, Luck picked it up and ran in from 5 yards out.

"I sort of set Donald up for failure a little bit there," Luck said. "It was a loaded box and I called a run. I was hoping Donald would do one [of] his amazing plays like he'd been doing all game. It didn't happen. Sort of saw the ball there and I think you revert back to playground whatever. Pick it up and try to score."

That was the indication that it was meant to be on this night for Luck and the Colts.

"Andrew kept saying, 'Stay with me, stay with me,'" Colts tackle Gosder Cherilus said. "He willed us to this win."

Or as long snapper Matt Overton put it, "An ESPN Instant Classic."

Colts at healthiest since Week 7

January, 3, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The only thing that would be better is if Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen, Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard and Donald Thomas dressed for Saturday's playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

That possibility ended months ago, but the Indianapolis Colts are still in the position to have their healthiest roster since Week 7 against the Denver Broncos.

Defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin (knee) and defensive end Fili Moala (knee) are the only two players listed as questionable for the game. The other 10 on the team's injury report, which includes starting cornerback Vontae Davis and defensive end Cory Redding, are listed as probable.

The Colts have come a long way from having to bring players up from the practice squad to piece together the offensive line.

Don't be surprised if this is what the starting line looks like Saturday:

Tackles: Anthony Castonzo, Gosder Cherilus

Guards: Hugh Thornton, Mike McGlynn

Center: Samson Satele

McGlynn is a better center than guard and he's a better center than Satele.

Colts could have healthy O-line Saturday

December, 31, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Barring any setbacks in practice this week, the Indianapolis Colts could have a full complement of players (minus Donald Thomas) to choose from on the offensive line for Saturday's wild card playoff match against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Coach Chuck Pagano said guard Mike McGlynn, who missed Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars with an elbow injury, "will be good to go." The Colts have started a different offensive line in each of their last six game.

"We've never had that happen to this point, but no, it's great to have all those guys available and guys have done a great job filling in for when guys have been out," Pagano said. "It'll be great to have everybody available."

That's the good part for a group that's had a different starting lineup eight times during the regular season.

It'll be up Pagano to determine who he wants to start outside of tackles Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus.

The line has played well over the past four games. But it's not as simple sticking with the same group Pagano used in those matchups because they had four different starting lineups in each game.

In typical Pagano fashion, the coach had no interest in revealing who he plans to start against the Chiefs.

“We'll put the best five out there that we feel give us the best chance to win the football game,” Pagano said.

Here's what the O-line looked like in the Colts' Week 16 victory over the Chiefs:

Tackles: Castonzo, Cherilus

Guards: McGlynn, Xavier Nixon

Center: Samson Satele

Here's what I think the starting line should look like Saturday:

Tackles: Castonzo, Cherilus

Guards: Hugh Thornton, Jeff Linkenbach

Center: McGlynn
 
INDIANAPOLIS -- If the early struggles to protect quarterback Andrew Luck weren't problem enough, the injuries along the offensive line in recent weeks gave the Indianapolis Colts every excuse to fall apart up front.

Seven different starting lineups along the line, including five in the past five games, have forced coach Chuck Pagano to be creative in his tinkering with the line.

The Colts had only six healthy offensive linemen before they brought center Thomas Austin up from the practice squad the day before their game against the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend. Austin was released on Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaAndrew Luck is, at last, enjoying a good deal of protection from his offensive line.
But despite all the mixing and matching of interchangeable players, the Colts are in the midst of their best offensive-line play of the season.

Luck has been just sacked twice in the past three games and the Colts have rushed for at least 135 yards in each of the past two games.

“I think the more adversity you face sometimes, it tends to bring you together,” Pagano said. “The players have found a way to put the pieces together week-in and week-out and it doesn’t really matter who’s up and who’s down and who’s available and who’s playing where. They all know they all have position flexibility and know what to do. Those guys all prepare as starters and they’ve done a great job. And they have played well the last couple weeks, especially protecting Andrew.”

The improved play comes after the Colts gave up 22 sacks through the first nine games. They’ve given up a total of nine since then, with five occurring against Tennessee on Dec. 1.

The only stability has been at tackle, where Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus have started every game on the left and right, respectively.

The interior three of the line – the weakest part of the group – is the one that has undergone the constant changes. Jeff Linkenbach replaced the struggling Mike McGlynn at right guard against Tennessee on Dec. 1. McGlynn was back starting at guard the following week because Linkenbach got injured. Then McGlynn had to start at center against Houston on Dec. 15 because Samson Satele went down with an injury.

Are you still with me?

Xavier Nixon, a tackle during his college career at Florida, started at left guard against the Chiefs last weekend. His pull-block helped open a hole for Donald Brown on his 51-yard touchdown run that featured some poor tackling by the Chiefs.

Castonzo, the protector on Luck’s back side, limited Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, who has 11 sacks this season, to only two tackles and no sacks in the game.

“There’s been so much change that you really have to get back to your fundamentals because you don’t know who is going to play next to you, so it comes down to everybody doing their own fundamentals properly,” Castonzo said. “It might be just the refocus on fundamentals that’s allowed us to play well.”

The Colts could be getting close to having a healthy line (minus Donald Thomas, who is out for the season). Thornton, Linkenbach and Joe Reitz could return to practice later this week.

“Chuck and [general manager] Ryan [Grigson] brought the right guys in here,” Cherilus said. “The new guys come in and they listen to the vets and when your number is called they show up and perform. They’ve been doing that. You want to finish the season with your starting lineup. But we’re talking about football, change is going to come, you’re going to have to make yourself available to be a part of it.”

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