One of the glaring holes heading into the Indianapolis Colts’ offseason was at the center position. It’s now April, and still, not much has been done to significantly address the position. That is, unless you consider former Cowboys’ signed center, Phil Costa, as a big signing. To GM Ryan Grigson’s credit, at least he has made moves at the position. There are some GM’s in the National Football League who can be woefully stubborn and refuse to make a change. Grigson saw what any informed Colts’ observers saw, Samson Satele was largely ineffective in 2014. Whether it was due to injury or not, his play was simply bad. ProFootballFocus’s (PFF) advanced statistics fully back this up, depicting that Satele ranked 31st out of 35 qualifiers at starting center in overall rating. Not only this, but he ranked dead last in run blocking 35th out of the 35 qualifying starting centers. Consequently, Satele was waived without completing the last year and $3.9 million that was owed on his contract, saving $1.73M, and now we are here.
Although Cleveland Brown’s All-Pro, Alex Mack, remains in potential lucrative contract limbo, having been slapped with a transition tag, the remaining options are dwindling. The considered “best of the rest”, former Packers’ center, Evan Dietrich-Smith, and ex-Saints center, Brian da la Puente have already signed with news teams, the Bucs and Bears respectively. Looking at the remaining free agency options, San Francisco’s Jonathan Goodwin looks like the only other remaining starting caliber option, and while he’s still stout in the run game, at age 35, he struggled mightily in pass protection last season. For a team that’s looking to first and foremost, protect Andrew Luck, he may not be the best option at this juncture.
Well, what about the Colts’ internal options? The team did just sign the aforementioned ex-Cowboy, Phil Costa. As it’s shaping up, barring a high pick on a center in April’s NFL Draft, it looks like it will be an open competition between Costa and last year’s 4th round pick out of USC, Khaled Holmes. Not the most inspiring group at first glance, but there’s the potential to surprise. Costa played his college ball at Maryland and later went undrafted in 2010. While this could draw potential parallels to another former Colts’ great, Jeff Saturday (who went undrafted himself), I am nowhere near ready to make that comparison. Instead, I will detail what is known about Costa. He has played his previous entire 4-year career with the Dallas Cowboys, used mostly as a back-up. However, he does have starting experience having started 20 games, including 16 in 2011. GM Colts’ Ryan Grigson has described him as, “A young, hard-nosed and physical center who has shown he can play at a winning level in our league. He will provide strong competition at the center position”.
So what about his advanced staistics performance? Well, Phil Costa’s career has been about what you’d expect, pretty much back-up worthy. He played sparingly last year, with only one snap, as Dallas invested its 2013 first round pick in former Wisconsin center, Travis Frederick. In 2012, with his 126 snaps, Costa ranked 23rd out of 69 qualifiers according to PFF. This was considerably better than his 2011 performance, where with 1024 snaps, he ranked 60th out of the 65 qualifying centers. If he’s the Colts starting center in 2014, it looks like it will be cause for both surprise and alarm. With all due respect to Costa, the Colts need a significant upgrade at the position from last season if they have any serious championship aspirations. While Costa is fully expected to play hard and compete at the position, my guess is he’ll be for the Colts what he’s always been, a back-up. There’s no shame in that.
As for his current competition, second-year center Khaled Holmes, not much is really known. As mentioned, Holmes was a fourth round pick of the Colts in 2013 from USC, where he earned several all-team Pac-12 honors. He played a total of 12 snaps last season, appearing in just 3 games for the Colts this past season. On an offensive line that struggled, particularly in the interior, it’s a bit surprising that Holmes didn’t play any meaningful time. If he’s considered an effective contributor going forward, it seems reasonable that one could’ve expected him to earn some meaningful snaps last season. Still, he has been subject to high praise from Colts’ head coach Chuck Pagano this offseason, so maybe he’s significantly improved.
Unless the Colts take a center in the upcoming NFL Draft, it’s shaping up to be Costa vs. Holmes. If you’re like me, that probably makes you a bit uneasy and rightfully so. Who knows though? Maybe Ryan Grigson and the Colts know something we don’t know or maybe, perhaps like you, I’m just the king of wishful thinking. Time will tell Colts’ fans.