By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
It stood to reason that protecting the new franchise quarterback would be near the top of the Indianapolis Colts’ to-do list this offseason.
The team proved just how important the notion was, signing a pair of offensive line reinforcements on the first day of the new NFL year Tuesday. Gosder Cherilus — a 6-foot-7, 325-pound offensive tackle out of Boston College — was imported from the Detroit Lions, and Donald Thomas — a 6-4, 305-pound guard from Connecticut — was plucked off the New England Patriots’ roster.
The two new bodyguards could be paired together on the right side, joining returning starters Anthony Castonzo, Joe Reitz and Samson Satele. Thomas also could play at left guard, perhaps leaving Reitz and Mike McGlynn to battle for the final starting spot in training camp.
Utility man Jeff Linkenbach, twice-injured 2011 draft pick Ben Ijalana and last year’s backup center A.Q. Shipley also could be worked into the mix.
“I got a solid six hours (of sleep) last night, no interruptions,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said of his comfort with the revamped offensive line during a Friday news conference. “I feel really good. What we have coming back and then adding Gosder and Donald, it’s hard to find guys like that. It’s hard to get them in here.”
Cherilus and Thomas are maulers who could add a physical presence to the power running game Pagano has stated as his preference since taking the reigns in Indianapolis last January.
The two newcomers also fit the punishing profile necessary for new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s version of the West Coast offense.
It’s a scheme second-year quarterback Andrew Luck knows well. Hamilton was his offensive coordinator during his record-setting final season at Stanford.
While the system is likely to improve Luck’s much talked about completion percentage, Pagano was hesitant to say the change is being made solely with the quarterback in mind.
“He broke all kinds of records outside of a West Coast offense in his rookie season, 4,374 yards, 433 against Miami and everything else,” Pagano said. “He wouldn’t be able to tell you those numbers because he really doesn’t care about those numbers. I think when you blend a West Coast system type of offense in there at the end of the day, whatever you want to call us, from Day 1 we said you’ve got to be able to run the football and stop the run. So we’re going to continue to do that.
“We bolstered our line on both sides of the ball to be able to do that: Control the line of scrimmage, knock them back on defense and knock people off the ball on offense so we can run the football and stop the run.”
That doesn’t mean the Colts won’t still take shots downfield. The team just plans to mix in more slants and crossing routes to complement the power running attack and get the ball to its playmakers in space.
One thing is certain to change in the passing game, however: The backup quarterback. Veteran Drew Stanton signed with the Arizona Cardinals last week, leaving second-year man Chandler Harnish as the only signal-caller on the roster other than Luck.
Indianapolis could look to add a low-cost veteran before organized team activities begin next month.
“Chandler is coming along well,” general manager Ryan Grigson said. “We all feel very good about Chandler. Just like every position, though, we always want to create competition and let the best emerge. Because we are not just trying to be average or good, we are trying to be great around here.”
The best chance of that, of course, is with Luck under center.
And that’s why Pagano can rest easier this week, with two big new blockers protecting his team’s future up front.
“We’ve got a really special guy under center,” Pagano said. “When he’s upright, he’s healthy and we keep him clean, then we’re going to continue to win a lot of football games around here.”