Colts GM gives Ryan Grigson credit for building O-line

In his first few months on the job, new Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard gutted the defense, added playmakers in the draft and depth on offense. The one main area he didn’t overhaul: the offensive line.

A longtime trouble spot for Indy, Ballard didn’t add a big-name (mostly overpriced) free agent lineman or use an early round draft pick to upgrade the blocking in front of Andrew Luck.

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While ex-Colts GM Ryan Grigson took heat from Indy fans for his repeated failures to build a solid offensive line, upon taking over the gig, Ballard decided those players on the roster weren’t as bad as they’ve been made out.

Ballard told The MMQB’s the key is developing those players.

“I’ll give Ryan Grigson a lot of credit for this — he drafted [center Ryan] Kelly, [tackle Joe] Haeg and [tackle] Le’Raven Clark all in one year,” Ballard said. “Thank God he did, because [the 2017 draft] was a down year for offensive line. We gotta let those guys develop. So it’s the combination of [left tackle] Anthony Castonzo, [guard Jack] Mewhort, Kelly, Haeg, L’Raven Clark, Denzelle Good, we signed Brian Schwenke from Tennesse, we drafted [Zach] Banner [in the fourth round]. …

“Are we perfect yet? No. But do we have a good group to work with? I do believe that. There’s definitely hope there. Now we gotta let those guys develop.”

The Colts enter 2017 with great expectations for the left side of the line, where Castonzo (tackle), Mewhort (guard) and Kelly (center) are all coming off solid seasons when healthy. The right side of the starting unit with Good at guard and Clark at tackle need to show the development of which Ballard spoke — the unit played much better down the stretch when the young right-side players began to jell. The depth behind the starting unit is wafer thin, as the Colts experienced when Mewhort missed games last season.

Last year the group was much better in the run game than pass protection. Indy’s O-line ranked third in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards metric in run blocking and 28th in pass blocking. The Colts allowed 128 QB hits (second-most in the ) and 44 sacks (fifth most) last season.

We really don’t need to explain why Manning is deserving of a statue, but we’ll do it anyway: 71,940 yards passing, 539 touchdowns (including the single-season record of 55 in 2013), 251 interceptions, career completion percentage of 65.3 (on 9,380 attempts), career passer rating of 96.5, five-time NFL , seven-time first-team All-Pro, two-time champion (four appearances), multiple seasons leading one of the league’s highest-powered offenses, and a rejuvenation in Denver that resulted in two appearances and a career-capping victory in 50. We also can’t forget his life-sized action figure role in a Gatorade commercial (, your very own action toy, personal quarterback, he’s all yours!), or his grocery store deli chants (cut that meat!).

Nike Colts #32 T.J. Green Royal Blue Team Color Men's Stitched NFL Vapor Untouchable Limited JerseyDrafted first overall out of Tennessee in 1998, Manning solidifed the quarterback position for a decade and a half in Indianapolis and made the RCA Dome (and later, Lucas Oil Stadium) a place that most teams didn’t want to visit, lest they be blown out by the juggernaut offense of the Colts. Manning’s sustained excellence also helped turn much of Indiana into Colts fans 15 years after they left Baltimore for Indianapolis. He’s the first Colt of the Indianapolis era to have his jersey retired.

Manning left Indianapolis after 2011, when he missed an entire season with a serious neck injury. The absence sent the Colts from the league’s best to its worst, and resulted in the franchise moving on from its beloved quarterback. The team released Manning, holding a tearful news conference for him, before he signed with Denver, where he played from 2012-2015.

“Peyton will always be a Colt,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a statement released by the team. “This will be an event our city, state and Colts fans around the world can celebrate and be proud of.”

“Right now I feel like we got probably the best defense in the AFC,” Hankins said. “On paper, it looks good, but we’ve got to go out there and prove it. We’ve got a great quarterback here, as y’all know, Andrew Luck, and some great weapons on offense. So, if we can just come together during OTAs, and once training camp starts, get a good feel of everybody and just trust each other, I feel like we’ll be real dominant out there.”

The Colts ranked 30th in the NFL in total defense in 2017. Football Outsiders rated Indy 29th in DVOA and 32nd against the run.

Hankins’ addition immediately helps versus the run. The signings of Al Woods, , Barkevious Mingo, Margus Hunt and Sean Spence in free agency provided depth to one of the NFL’s shallowest front sevens last season. In the draft, the Colts then added first-round safety Malik Hooker, cornerbacks (2nd round), Nate Hairston (5th round), defensive tackles (3rd) and Grover Stewart (4th) and linebacker Anthony Walker (5th).

“Chris [Ballard] did a tremendous job bringing a lot of guys in here, even going into the draft he brought even more defensive guys in here — and of course we got a couple [Ohio State] Buckeyes on defense, so that’s just going to help us and improve us out there,” Hankins said. “I just love the new atmosphere we got going on in here about winning, and ready to take the next step with a new team.”

With the Colts looking for a turnaround following two seasons missing the playoffs, the Titans becoming favorites to win the division, the Texans owning a playoff-caliber roster if they can figure out the QB, and the Jaguars’ perpetual offseason optimism, the AFC South has a chance to be the most entertaining division in the NFL in 2017.

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