Much of the blame for the Indianapolis Colts' 2011 failures can be placed on an offensive line that due to injury and inexperience gave little push or protection to Colts running backs and quarterbacks. Though the Colts have made an effort to address those issues, the unit as a whole is still full of question marks heading into 2012.
Center Jeff Saturday was the only member of the Colts' line to start all 16 games last season. Around him was a collection of mostly cast off talent filling in for injured players who were slated to start. Saturday is gone via free agency to Denver as well as most of the other players who filled in around him.
The only returning starter will be second year tackle Anthony Castonzo. The rookie started 12 games last season, but was never completely healthy. He'll be protecting Andrew Luck's blind side and needs to fulfill his first round promise immediately.
Opposite Castonzo at tackle will be free agent acquisition, Winston Justice. Justice has his own history of injuries which is why the Philadelphia Eagles were willing to let him walk away. Still, he represents an upgrade to Jeff Linkenbach who has been little more than a revolving door at times at right tackle.
That's where depth becomes a problem. Should Castonzo or Justice go down, the Colts are left with Linkenbach and Mike Tepper who came off the practice squad last year to play guard and tackle.
The interior line play for the Colts last year was abysmal as well. Besides Saturday at center, the Colts put out a rotation of players who were either injured or ineffective. Ben Ijalana played only four games last season before being lost to injury. Another second year player, he'll be the "veteran" and have first shot at winning the right guard position.
Indianapolis signed Bengals free agent Mike McGlynn to ostensibly start at the other guard. McGlynn wasn't all that effective for Cincinnati last year in Bobbie Williams' absence. He's got the Ryan Grigson Philadelphia connection, however. Behind those two competing for time will be Joe Reitz and Seth Olsen, neither of whom was very effective last season. Olsen provided perhaps the low point for the offensive line when he was absolutely steamrolled in the first half at Tennessee before being mercifully pulled from the game.
Other than Peyton Manning, Saturday's departure leaves the biggest void to fill on the Colts' offense. NFL teams dream of centers like Saturday who hold down the middle of the line for over a decade. In his place, the Colts signed Samson Satele from the Raiders. Satele has starting experience in the NFL, but has had off the field issues as well.
A wild card could be combo guard/tackle Justin Anderson, one of the Colts seventh round picks this year. His versatility could provide some much needed depth.
If the "new era" Colts offense is to look any better than the 2011 version, it won't be on Andrew Luck. The Colts offensive line will need to stay healthy and provide a much better performance than the one that doomed last season.
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