INDIANAPOLIS – He’s in charge of one of the NFL’s premier offensive lines and every day watches a transcendent player go about his business.
Life is good for Chris Strausser.
During a Tuesday Zoom conference call, the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive line coach addressed several topics. Many involved that transcendent player: guard Quenton Nelson. Others dealt with a position room that houses arguably the NFL’s top group and why that’s the case.
Individually and collectively, Strausser noted, it’s an offensive line that’s equal parts talented and driven to maximize that talent.
There are three first round picks: Nelson (6th overall in 2018), left tackle Anthony Castonzo (22nd overall in ‘11) and center Ryan Kelly (18th overall in ‘16). There’s Mark Glowinski, a waiver-wire pickup from Seattle in December 2017 who’s settled in nicely at right guard. And there’s Braden Smith, a 2018 second-round pick the Colts viewed as a long-term answer at guard who’s developing into a top-level right tackle.
While going in-depth on his o-line, Strausser also took time to send out prayers to his good friend, Howard Mudd. The long-time Colts’ offensive line coach and one of the NFL’s top assistants, remains in ICU at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center following a July 29 motorcycle accident. Mudd’s second stint with the Colts came during a portion of 2019, when he worked closely with Strausser.
“We are thinking about him every day,’’ he said. “Hey, we all know this is one tough sucker. If anybody can pull himself out of this, it’s going to be coach Mudd, and we’re praying for him.’’
Context: It’s taken Nelson just two seasons to establish himself as arguably the NFL’s top guard. He’s just the seventh player and first offensive lineman since at least 1970 selected first-team All-Pro in each of his first two seasons. The last Colt named first-team All-Pro in consecutive seasons: Peyton Manning (2008-09).
The question: What keeps complacency from creeping into Nelson’s game?
Strausser: “You don’t become a guy like Quenton Nelson without this burning desire to get better all the time. Since the day I walked in the building he has this tremendous desire to be the best that’s ever played. When you’ve got that mindset, you’re always in that mode of when you go out on that football field, ‘Hey, what can I get better at?’
“One thing that people don’t know about a guy like Quenton Nelson, really all our guys, is they see the faults in themselves way more than any of us do. I just think he’s so driven to be the best.’’
VIDEO SESSIONS WITH NELSON
Context: Elite players can’t get enough of video review and welcome critique from those video sessions. That was true with Peyton Manning, and is the case with Nelson.
Strausser: “He’s so driven. He doesn’t want that to be short (in duration). He wants me to critique every little thing with him. I’ve heard stories over the years when Peyton was here and what he said to Jim Caldwell when he was the quarterbacks coach. He said, ‘Hey, coach me like I’m an eighth grader. Assume I know nothing. Coach me every stinking play.’ That’s really what Quenton’s mindset is. He wants to be coached on every little detail.’’
Context: A one-time liability has emerged as one of the NFL’s best units. In fact, Pro Football Focus has these guys No. 1 on its list of offensive lines heading into 2020. It was No. 3 last year.
Strausser: “Our mission is not just to be an elite offensive line, but consistently an elite offensive line. For us to get that done in-season for 16 games is our mission, and hopefully we get to play (in the postseason). I don’t want to really compare it to ’18, but our group last year as the season went on improved fundamentally, which was a big mission of coach Mudd’s and myself.
“For us to take that next step and improve we have to be more consistent with it . . . really just being consistently the type of group that we have the talent to be.’’
OFFENSIVE LINE, PART 2
Context: The offseason has injected a ton of new faces into the offense – Philip Rivers, Michael Pittman Jr. Jonathan Taylor, Trey Burton. That might be a signal for the o-line to carry a heavier load and lead the way.
Strausser: “I think they’d feel that way regardless of what the scenario is. They want to be the leaders on this offense. They want to set the tempo for this group. They want everybody to follow them. I don’t think they look at the roster and say, ‘Hey, where are issues? We’ve got to do something differently.’ I just think that’s the mindset of this group and any great offensive line is, ‘Hey, let’s be the leaders for this offense.’’’
MORE OF THE SAME
Context: For the first time since 2000, the Colts had the same five players start all 16 games. That group is in line to join the 2002-03 Kansas City Chiefs and 2007-08 New York Giants as the only units since 1978 to start the same five players in consecutive seasons.
Strausser: “For sure we were very fortunate to get that done last year. Fortunate combined with also some tough guys. Those guys did a great job of pushing through it and taking care of their bodies.’’
Context: As much as Strausser hopes he won’t need that depth, he understands the nature of the offensive line. Guys get hurt and backups will be needed. The only two backups who stepped on the field in 2019 were Joe Haeg (74 snaps) and Josh Andrews (61 snaps). Each rode free agency out of town.
Strausser: “I’ve said forever to guys that aren’t starters, ‘Hey, your time’s coming pretty quick.’ And last year was one of those years that didn’t happen. I’ve got to remind them again: ‘It’s coming.’ I don’t want it to come, but it’s coming. They know the nature of this sport at this level and it’s very, very rare for everybody to play.
“That’s a huge part of where we’re at right now, to develop legitimate sixth, seventh, eighth guys.’’
According to Strausser, Le’Raven Clark and Chaz Green are the front-runners to be the backup swing tackle, and don’t count out rookie free agent Carter O’Donnell. Fifth-round draft pick Danny Pinter should emerge as a top interior backup, along with Andrew Donnal.
Context: The Colts selected Smith with the 37th overall pick of the 2018 draft. They viewed him as starting-guard quality. But when injuries depleted the tackle position during his rookie training camp, the coaching staff moved Smith to tackle. He’s appeared in 33 straight games overall, 31 as the starting right tackle.
Strausser: “It’s pretty unique. I remember looking at him when I was in Denver. We looked at him very closely and liked so many things about him and really saw him as an inside guy just like Chris (Ballard) and everybody else did, whether it was at guard or center. Sometimes that’s just how these things shake down. The mission is to get your best five guys on the field.
“With Braden . . . he’s just such a grinder, so consistent. You know what you’re going to get with Braden Smith. Every day he’s going to show up and compete. He’s athletic and he’s strong. Just the level that he run-blocks at makes a huge difference. He’s continued to progress as a pass protector. I think he can be a tackle for a long time.
“He’s a little bit of a unique one in the room in that he doesn’t say much. When he does speak, guys listen because he doesn’t speak that much. He’s just a blue-collar guy.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.