Since the beginning of the 2018 season, one of the strengths of the Indianapolis Colts has been their offensive line.
This will continue to be true in 2021, as this once young group of offensive linemen are starting to enter into the prime of their careers.
One of the reasons new quarterback Carson Wentz wanted to come to the Colts was because of the elite offensive line. Keeping a quarterback upright and comfortable in the pocket is very helpful in building confidence and success for the offense.
We’ve already taken a look at the offensive tackles protecting Wentz, so now let’s see who will protect Wentz in the middle, allowing him to step up and make plays.
It’s impossible to talk about the Colts’ offensive line without mentioning Quenton Nelson. The transformation of the offensive line was not solely because of Nelson, but it certainly started with his selection at No. 6 overall in the 2018 NFL draft.
After three seasons resulting in three All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections, he has established himself as the best guard in the NFL and on a Hall of Fame trajectory. There were talks earlier this offseason about Nelson possibly having to move to left tackle, but with the acquisition of Eric Fisher that will no longer be necessary.
“I was really happy with getting Fish,” Nelson said on the first day of OTAs. “He’s a great guy, just meeting him a couple times before this and then meeting him today. He’s smart, he’s a good player, he’s been in a good system with the Chiefs. And really excited already from the talks with him to get to work with him and build that chemistry up.”
Nelson was going to do whatever the team asked him to do, but now he can stay at his preferred position. Expect to see another All-Pro caliber season out of Nelson. Whether it is pancaking defenders or pulling to lead block for the running backs, Nelson looks to dominate once again in year four.
One thing to keep an eye on with Nelson is his contract situation. The Colts picked up his fifth-year option for 2022 so an extension is not a pressing issue, but when the extension does come you can expect it to reset the market for interior linemen.
Ryan Kelly is not only the leader of this offensive line group, but he has become one of the leaders of the entire Colts team. Kelly came into this league as a quiet guy, but has found his voice in the locker room and is considered one of the most respected guys on the team. He is also the Colts’ NFLPA player rep.
Kelly is not only respected for his leadership but also the high level of play that he brings. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl each of the last two years and Pro Football Focus considers him to be the 9th best center in the NFL. The Colts rewarded Kelly with a four-year, $50 million contract extension last summer to keep him in Indianapolis long-term.
Kelly has had to snap the ball to six different starting quarterbacks since he was drafted by the Colts in 2016, with Wentz being number seven. Each quarterback is different, and the center has to build a relationship with each one.
“It seems like it’s been my life for the last couple years now,” Kelly said about building a relationship with a new quarterback. “In the short meetings that I’ve had with Carson, and hanging out with him and his wife, just an awesome guy so far. This is what this league shows is that the guys who stay in here are professionals. They do the things on and off the field to stay here to better their careers, and I’m just excited to have him.”
Kelly will certainly play a big role in making sure Wentz is comfortable with the line and handling the protections so Wentz can focus on reading the defense. Kelly looks to play at a Pro Bowl level once again and develop a strong bond with his new QB1.
While sometimes the afterthought of this great offensive line, Mark Glowinski has shown to be another solid acquisition by general manager Chris Ballard.
Glowinski was a fifth-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2015 NFL draft and became a starter for them in 2016. He was released towards the end of the 2017 season but quickly claimed off of waivers two days later by the Colts. He entered into the starting lineup in 2018 and has started every game since at right guard.
Behind Nelson, Glowinski has been the most durable of all the offensive linemen. Continuity along the offensive line is a big contributor to the success of the group, and availability is sometimes one of the best abilities.
“It’s unreal just having the opportunity to have the same guys together and just be able to keep working, trust one another, and grow as a group,” Glowinski said. “We still find ways to learn from one another and make it interesting. We’re still able to use the same jokes and still laugh.”
“We’re just working … You’re working on the same blocks, but you just find another way to get better at those. You can just keep developing new ways to do your job.”
Glowinski is a solid starter at guard for the Colts. He is entering a contract year in 2021, and while he has been a solid contributor along the line, there is a chance he might not be back after this season. His level of play, the cost of the others along the offensive line, and the development of some of the younger guys will all play a role in determining whether he returns after the 2021 season.
Best of the Rest
Depth along the interior of the offensive line is an aspect of the roster that cannot be ignored, as any one of these guys could be thrown into the fire at a moment’s notice. Three Colts stand out as players who could step in and perform well if called upon.
Danny Pinter looks to be the backup to Kelly at center. Pinter, a fifth-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft out of Ball State, played well when called upon last year and even started a game at center when Kelly was out with an injury. Pinter can play all along the interior of the offensive line and looks to build on a promising rookie year.
Chris Reed, a veteran acquisition the Colts made in free agency this spring, looks to hold down one of the backup spots at guard. Reed has mostly been a backup during his five-year career but started 14 games last year for the Carolina Panthers. Reed brings a physical presence to the Colts offensive line and can play both guard positions when called upon.
Another backup at the guard position may be a surprise to some, but Will Fries could make a strong push for this spot. The Colts’ seventh-round pick out of Penn State in the 2021 draft played mostly at tackle during his collegiate career but switched to right guard his senior year. He projects better at guard in the NFL as well and has shown to have an outstanding work ethic and desire to get better. Look for Fries to impress in training camp and build a strong case for this backup role.
Have thoughts on the Colts' interior offensive line ahead of the 2021 season? Drop a line in the comments section below letting us know how you feel!
See Below for More in This Series:
Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMooreSI.