News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 23, 2013

Toeing the line: Colts’ offensive line getting healthy, finding niche as playoffs near

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

TERRE HAUTE — The Indianapolis Colts’ offensive line has certainly taken its share of hits this season, both on and off the field.

Inconsistency and injuries have gone hand-in-hand with the Colts. How bad has it been? Indianapolis faced a good Kansas City defense this past Sunday with its seventh different combination up front. No wonder the Colts have struggled to get a meshing of talent going.

But in the team’s 23-7 win over the Chiefs, Indianapolis had 135 yards rushing as a team — led by Donald Brown’s 79 on 10 carries — and allowed only one sack.

Not a bad effort considering the circumstances and considering who/where the Colts played. Kansas City’s defense had recorded 35 sacks through its first 14 games of the season.

“Those have done a great job. [Offensive line] coach [Joe] Gilbert and [assistant offensive line coach] Frank Giufre do a tremendous job with those guys. They’ve got a lot of pride in what they do,” Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano praised.

“It doesn’t matter right now because of versatility and guys bouncing around. Mike [McGlynn] being able to play center when he played guard. Getting [center] Samson [Satele] back. A young guy like [rookie free agent] Xavier Nixon coming in and doing the job that he is doing.”

Nixon, normally an offensive tackle, has played offensive guard the last two games as he filled in for injured starter Joe Reitz (concussion). He had a key block early in the third quarter of the Kansas City game when Brown broke loose for a 51-yard touchdown run.

Reitz had been filling in for rookie starter Hugh Thornton, who was sidelined with a neck injury. And Thornton? He had taken over as a starter when veteran free-agent signee Donald Thomas was sidelined for the season with a torn quad.

McGlynn has gone from offensive guard to center for two games when Satele was out with an injured elbow.

He went back to guard Sunday in the Colts’ most recent makeshift offensive line configuration.

Two of the constants on the offensive line have been tackles Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilis.

“We just feel real good about all of the offensive linemen in there practicing real hard,” Castonzo said. “For a guy like Xavier [Nixon] to step up and do what he’s done the last two weeks, nobody’s really surprised. But we’re all really proud of him.”

• • •

• Injury list — Defensive tackle Cory Redding (shoulder) was injured early in the fourth quarter of the Kansas City game. He did not return. A magnetic resonance testing exam, though, after the game was negative. Redding is not expected to practice today but should return later in the week and be available for the Jacksonville game.

Also due back are defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois (foot), rookie outside linebacker Daniel Adongo (hamstring), safety Sergio Brown (groin), Reitz (concussion), Thornton (neck), rookie defensive tackle Montori Hughes (knee) and Linkenbach (quad).

Reitz has passed his concussion tests and could return to the starting lineup Sunday against the Jaguars.

• DHB impresses coaches — Wide receiver Darrius Heywood-Bey has seen his playing time on offense decreased in recent weeks due to inconsistent play and dropped passes.

But Heywood-Bey has volunteered to play on special teams. He was a gunner in the Kansas City game and had one tackle on punt coverage.

“He’s done a great job. He’s selfless. It speaks volumes about the guy’s character,” Pagano said. “He said that he wanted to do whatever he could to help [the team win].”

n Toler returns — Cornerback Greg Toler returned to the playing field against the Chiefs after missing several games with a groin injury.

Toler had not played since he was sidelined against Denver on Oct. 20. He was limited in his playing time, though, as the coaching staff didn’t want to overload him coming back from an injury. Also, the cold weather limited Toler’s overall playing time.

• The Griffer — Wide receiver Griff Whalen continues to improve. Whalen was able to pick up some big first downs in the win over Kansas City and is also handling punt returns for the Colts. It was the second straight game that Whalen has been Indianapolis’ primary punt returner.

“The guy is accountable, trustworthy. And he makes plays,” the Colts’ coach said.

Whalen was Indianapolis’ leading receiver with seven catches for 80 yards, four of those receptions picking up first downs. He also had four punt returns for 32 yards.

• Defense getting better — Over the last two games, in wins over Houston and Kansas City, the Indianapolis defense has recorded eight sacks, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and allowed 10 points.

“I’ll tell you we’re having more fun than the month of November. I could tell you that. Inconsistent play is not good, whatsoever. I don’t care what level you’re on — high school, Pop Warner, whatever. You want to be consistent. You want to play good and you want victories. You want Ws. I don’t care how you get them, you want them,” Redding said.

“Right now, just the last three weeks, we’ve been playing very consistently. We’ve been playing together. We’ve been playing with energy. Our offense has been playing really good as well. It just goes hand in hand, man. Special teams … all three phases of the game have really just been focused on the little things. Just going out there and playing for one another and just having fun on the football field. It’s truly been showing on the scoreboard.”

• Playoff tickets — Indianapolis playoff tickets will be available for purchase beginning at 10 a.m. next Monday through normal outlets such as Lucas Oil Stadium ticket office, Ticketmaster ticket centers, www.ticketmaster.com and charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000.

If the Colts are playing wild-card weekend, the game will take place either Saturday, Jan. 4, or Sunday, Jan. 5. The divisional weekend will be Saturday, Jan. 11, and Sunday, Jan. 12.

All wild-card weekend playoff dates and times will be finalized Sunday evening. Prices vary and are determined by the NFL.