There is no more best-case scenario for the Colts offensive line.
With the release of Gosder Cherilus Sunday afternoon, one week before the first practice day of training camp at Anderson University, the Colts know who won’t be their starting right tackle in 2015. Just exactly who will take Cherilus’ place remains to be seen. Jack Mewhort is the leading candidate, but hardly the only option.
The Colts did not offer any reasons for releasing Cherilus, but he missed six games last year – three during the regular season and three in the playoffs – with injuries to his shoulder, groin and knee. The latter injury required arthroscopic surgery that kept Cherilus off the field for the entirety of the team’s offseason program. Cherilus reportedly had been cleared to return to the field for training camp.
The injuries were cited as the reason for Cherilus’ decline in performance; he was assigned responsibility for six sacks, 15 quarterback hits and 27 quarterback hurries by ProFootballFocus.com, and his overall grade (minus 16.8) was the worst of any player at any position on the roster.
Cherilus was expected to be a long-term bookend to left tackle Anthony Castonzo when he signed a five-year, $35 million contract in 2013 but after starting 29 games in two seasons in Indianapolis, the team has opted to write a new chapter. The Colts reportedly tried to restructure his contract to no avail, and there remains the possibility he could re-sign. The move saves $4 million against the cap this year, but costs the Colts $5.8 million next year.
Mewhort started 14 games at left guard as a rookie last season but played extensively at right tackle at Ohio State. He also received the lion’s share of the work at the position during OTAs and minicamp. But moving Mewhort opens up a need at left guard, with Lance Louis and Hugh Thornton the most likely replacements.
Joe Reitz started all three playoff games at right tackle and the veteran held up well, but the veteran is valued primarily for his ability to fill in at multiple positions, rather than as a full-time starter. Free agent signee Todd Herremans spent 2011 and half of ’12 as the starter at right tackle in Philadelphia but has been working exclusively at right guard since joining the Colts. A pair of seventh-round picks, Denzelle Good (2015) and Ulrick John (2014), provide depth.
Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert addressed the uncertainty at the position during OTAs.
“You’ve got a guy in Jack Mewhort that played tackle for us last year, played tackle in college,” he said. “Joe has been a really good fill-in really going into four years since I’ve been here, played every spot but center. You’ve got Todd Herremans, who’s gotten most of his starts playing guard ... I think if you go back, I think he had 100-some-odd starts, and about 30 or 40 have been at tackle. So there’s an option.
“You’ve got Ulrick John, who everybody missed last year. Ulrick’s had a great offseason and he’s doing a hell of job. He’s coming along. David Arkin we’re kind of cross-training at several spots. Then you’ve got Denzelle Good, the kid that we brought in. He’s a monster. The kid’s 6-6, 340. He’s got 24 percent body fat. He’s doing a heck of a job and has great feet. His deal will be the learning curve, just being able to handle it.”
Whether they were confident Cherilus would return or fully convinced they had capable options on the roster, the Colts bypassed several tackle prospects in the 2015 draft: Donovan Smith, Jamon Brown, Daryl Williams and T.J. Clemmings all were available to them in the first four rounds. They also elected not to pursue La’el Collins, the first-round talent whose stock tumbled on draft night because of possible involvement in a murder investigation. Since cleared, Collins signed with the Cowboys.
“I think everybody is well aware of that spot and us trying to fill that hole right now,” coach Chuck Pagano said in May. I’m fully confident that we’ve got the guys in this building right now that we’re going to be fine there.”
Starting one week from today, that confidence will be put to the test.