The Indianapolis Colts have struggled to put together a cohesive offensive line for years. At no point in Andrew Luck’s career has he started the season with a group of players who not only were the clear Week 1 starters but were also an almost certain part of the team’s future. This season, a lot has changed up front that could make things different.
The starters from left tackle to center are almost entirely in stone for the foreseeable future. Drafting a future replacement for Anthony Castonzo may be on the list in the next couple of drafts, but otherwise this side of the line is set if everyone stays healthy. The right side of the line has been the Achilles heel for some time. Numerous draft picks and free agent additions have come through Indianapolis and failed to present a long-term solution on the right side of the line.
This season, Chris Ballard signed veteran right guard/center Matt Slauson, who has started a lot of games in the NFL and brings experience to an otherwise young group. He also drafted guard Braden Smith, who will hopefully become the team’s future in the interior next to center Ryan Kelly.
Unless, of course, Smith is able to kick out to tackle. Ballard has a roster full of guards and seemingly few players on the outside. It could be fortuitous if Smith can lock down the right tackle position and allow the gaggle of guards fight it out to be the long-term answer inside of him.
Now that Smith is getting a serious chance to take starting repetitions, we will review how he looked in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks.
Smith displays a natural drop-step and good balance as he shuffles to stay in front of the defender. He has enough arm strength to control the defensive end and enough sense to allow the end to run himself around the pocket. This is a pretty nice start as a pass blocker.
Smith slides smoothly in protection, staying in front of the defender without selling out his shoulders. Keeping balanced in this way puts him in a position to defend a counter move and not simply focus on the speed rush.
Even without any help on the outside, Smith is able to get enough depth to keep the defender in front of him and engages when he has a clear advantage.
One thing to note about Smith is that he can be susceptible to bull rushing and losing vertical leverage. He can get too tall in his stance and surrender ground. In this case, that doesn’t matter as the defender is well outside the pocket and not an immediate threat to the quarterback.
Smith shows the kind of strength and balance on inside runs to get movement and create room for the running back. He is able to main inside leverage and keep his side of the play clean.
Another example of Smith getting movement at the line of scrimmage and helping maintain the block to keep the back side of the play clean.
While the offensive line as a whole doesn’t get a whole lot going her for Jordan Wilkins, Smith moves the defender out of the play to the outside and moves to the second level to get a body on another defender. I like the awareness to get a body another defender where the play is heading.
Even when Smith doesn’t get a lot of movement at the line of scrimmage, he does a great job of using his hips to rotate inside of the defender and shield him from the play direction. If Dres Anderson comes off of the line and gets a body on the free defender, Wilkins will have a nice lane to the outside with only the a corner to beat.
While this is a run play, it shows the same kind of lateral quickness to mirror the defensive end on the outside. I think this is another prime example of his potential strength at an outside pass blocker.
Before any part of Smith’s performance can be accurately considered, you have to acknowledge that this was the fourth quarter of the first preseason game. Smith is playing against a lot of guys who will likely not be on an NFL roster this year. It is impossible to get an accurate feel for how well he could do at tackle unless or until he gets the opportunity to go up against first team defensive talent.
Having said that, there are traits and fundamentals that stand out in his favor. He has a nice initial drop-step and slide to mirror edge rushers. He maintains balance and doesn’t reach or engage until he has an advantage. He does a nice job of positioning his body between the ball and the defender when blocking for the run or the pass. He seems comfortable knowing his assignment on the edge and able to win his match-ups one-on-one.
The things he needs to work on include staying lower in his stance to be better prepared for bull rushers. He will need more practice on the outside to become comfortable and did not have to face any stunts, slants, or exotic blitzes at any point during his time in the game. How he is able to react to those variables will make or break how well he projects at tackle.