October 27, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The stats still look bad for the Indianapolis Colts' offensive line.

The game tape is finally starting to become more palatable.

After allowing a league-high 25 sacks and seeing franchise quarterback Andrew Luck get knocked around dozens more times in the first seven games, this young group is fighting back.

''We're not where we started at, but I think all five guys are starting to put it together,'' rookie center Ryan Kelly said earlier this week after another solid performance.

Nobody will mistake this starting unit with the league's best - or even with those underrated offensive lines who kept Peyton Manning almost spotless for most of his career.

But they are clearly making progress.

Two weeks ago, at Houston, the Colts' linemen paved the way for Frank Gore to become the first Colts' 100-yard runner in 56 games.

Last week, against a Tennessee defense that has been among the league's best in sacks, the offensive line held up reasonably well again.

While Luck went down twice, as he has in every game this season, the franchise quarterback took only seven hits. They've even be cutting down those pesky penalties .

The Colts (3-4) did all that despite using five starting lineups in five weeks while using at least two rookies in each game.

''I think those guys played a great game and I think it showed with our playmakers and the way they performed,'' left guard Jack Mewhort said after sitting out the Titans' game with an injured triceps. ''It was a great game, but we still have a lot of areas we need to improve on.''

Mewhort hopes to return Sunday against an opportunistic Kansas City defense .

If the recent progression indicates anything, it's this: Perhaps Indy's offseason investment is starting to pay dividends.

With Anthony Castonzo holding down the tackle job for the sixth consecutive season and Mewhort back at guard, general manager Ryan Grigson figured he had a left side foundation on which he could build upon.

Grigson drafted Kelly in the first round, hoping to solidify the most unstable position throughout Luck's first four pro seasons. Kelly has not disappointed.

''His game isn't perfect, he'd be the first one to tell you that,'' coach Chuck Pagano said.

''He's making some mistakes like everyone else but the sirens aren't going off at that position, which is a good thing.''

Indy is still trying to sort out its right side.

While veteran Joe Reitz has started five games at tackle, the Colts (3-4) appear to have found a gem in fifth-round draft pick Joe Haeg, who has played well with two starts at right tackle, one at right guard and one at left guard.

''Joe Haeg is a perfect example of a guy who comes in, keeps his head down and works and studies,'' Mewhort said. ''I think that says a lot about him and his character.''

The early returns could give Haeg the inside track to becoming the fourth piece in Indy's long-term puzzle.

There's no heir apparent yet for the fifth and final piece.

Denzelle Good, a second-year player, has had mixed results in his five starts at right guard. Seventh-round draft pick Austin Blythe has one start in place of Good, and it's not yet clear how third-round pick Le'Raven Clark fits into the plan. Clark has played in three games, but has not started yet.

But now that the Colts are putting things together on tape, they need to see something else - results on paper, too.

''We watched the film as a group with the running backs as well and we saw some really good things and we saw some things we need to improve on,'' Castonzo said. ''As a whole, we felt pretty good about our performance.''

Notes: Mewhort and defensive tackle Henry Anderson (knee) did not practice Thursday after doing limited work Wednesday. Receiver T.Y. Hilton (hip) and inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (rest) also sat out Thursday. ... Tight end Dwayne Allen (ankle), defensive end Kendall Langford (knee), outside linebacker Curt Maggitt (ankle) and receiver Chester Rogers (foot and hamstring) all missed practice for the second straight day. ... Luck (right shoulder and ankle) did limited work Thursday, as has become the weekly norm. Receiver Done Moncrief (shoulder blade) and safety Mike Adams (shin) also were limited participants.

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