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Colts RT Braden Smith's knee 'already in a better spot than I was last year'

INDIANAPOLIS — Braden Smith was never healthy last season.

Not really.

Smith missed four games in the first half of the season with a hip injury, but the hip was only part of it.

His left knee was never truly healthy.

“It was kind of a lingering issue, basically all the way into the spring, and it just kind of progressively got worse,” Smith said. “It’s kind of one of those things where I tried to get back too fast, wasn’t taking care of myself probably as well as I should.”

The veteran right tackle battled through pain to start 10 games, knowing full well for most of them that his knee would not be 100%.

“You need to get something done, so you just go out there and do what you can for the team,” Smith said. “You’ve just got to build that mental fortitude over time.”

By the time he returned to the lineup for the final two games of the Indianapolis playoff push, Smith was playing in so much pain that he knew he might have to leave the lineup at any time.

“Playing from behind the entire year,” Smith said. “Never got better. But I’m already in a better spot than I was last year.”

The veteran right tackle believes the problem has been fixed.

Smith underwent surgery on his left knee this offseason, and although he’s not fully back to playing shape yet, he’s on his way. The 28-year-old has politely declined to name the injury in his left knee or dive into the details of what went wrong, but it was something he could play through to a degree, and it does not sound like the start of the 2024 season is in jeopardy.

The big right tackle did not want to put a timeline on his return to full activity.

But Smith is clearly in the rehabilitation phase, rather than recovering from the procedure.

“I had successful surgery, did some rehab this offseason,” Smith said. “I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot. The strength’s coming back.”

A healthy Smith would be a big development for a Colts offensive line that played its best football with an injured Smith in his familiar spot at right tackle last season.

Even hurt, Smith made an enormous impact on the Indianapolis offense last season.

Indianapolis gave up just 15 sacks in the nine games Smith played a significant amount — he left after just three plays against Tennessee in December — and allowed 26 in the other eight games. The Colts averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 138 rushing yards per game with Smith in the lineup; Indianapolis averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and 102.1 yards per game without him.

“Braden is important to our football team, and when he doesn’t play, it hurts us,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said. “He’s an important piece.”

The goal now is to get his knee back to full strength.

If Smith can make that much of an impact with an injured knee, imagine what he can do with a knee that feels strong.

“I’m just making sure I can get to the season healthy,” Smith said.

The Colts offense would love to have him.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts RT Braden Smith's knee 'already in a better spot' than last year