Eric Fisher out, Indianapolis Colts have no front-runner to take his spot at left tackle

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Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

The Indianapolis Colts are still waiting for someone to step up and seize control of the vacant starting left tackle job while former Pro Bowler and offseason free-agent signee Eric Fisher (Achilles) continues his rehabilitation.

Through the first three weeks of training camp, backups Sam Tevi, Will Holden and Julie'n Davenport have all been afforded chances to leave an impression on the Colts coaching staff, and so far the only impression they’ve left is: unimpressed.

Despite all three rotating at the position, no clear front-runner has emerged, as each has struggled — particularly in pass protection.

Just about every day in practice, you can count on at least one, but probably all three of them, getting beat off one of the edges during team drills. The talented but young/inexperienced Ben Banogu, Kemoko Turay and Kwity Paye in particular have used their speed off the edge to feast on the three backup tackles throughout camp and wreak havoc on the Colts’ young quarterbacks.

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Indianapolis Colts offensive tackle Sam Tevi (71) and Indianapolis Colts offensive tackle Julien Davenport (73) at Grand Park in Westfield on Monday, August 10, 2021, on the third week of workouts of this summer's Colts training camp.
Indianapolis Colts offensive tackle Sam Tevi (71) and Indianapolis Colts offensive tackle Julien Davenport (73) at Grand Park in Westfield on Monday, August 10, 2021, on the third week of workouts of this summer's Colts training camp.

Gifted though those edge-rushers may be, it can’t be comforting to the Colts to see them continually best the linemen they may have to start come Week 1 against Seattle — especially free agent acquisitions such as Tevi and Davenport, who were brought to Indianapolis with the idea that their significant starting experience in the NFL (44 games for Tevi and 28 for Davenport) meant they could provide adequate play until Fisher returned.

They have not shown that ability through the first three weeks of camp.

Now, there’s still time left for one of them to distinguish himself, but Colts offensive line coach Chris Strausser admitted that while it’s understandable that no one has stood out, it’s still a little disappointing.

“Yeah, I mean you’re always looking for someone to come in and separate,” Strausser said Thursday afternoon at Westfield’s Grand Park. “But I think at this point in camp you understand guys have (only) been in our offense for two to three weeks out here in pads, so it takes some time for them to have all the details and then separate themselves. We’d always be excited for someone to be the clear-cut favorite. But we’re just not there yet.”

The Colts’ plan to find their backup left tackle is to keep rotating them through and see who takes charge. Lately, Davenport has taken almost all of the reps at left tackle with the first-team offensive line, but that is likely to change after the Colts’ game in Minnesota this weekend.

While Tevi, Davenport and Holden are auditioning to start in Fisher’s stead, they’re also auditioning for the part of full-time swing tackle, meaning they need to prove to the Colts they can handle both ends of the offensive line.

Because Davenport started camp on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and missed significant time, Strausser has been trying to let him settle in at left tackle before moving him over to right. But, Strausser promised, Davenport will move there soon, which means Tevi and/or Holden will have more chances to impress on the left.

They need those chances.

Colts have issues at left tackle

The Colts’ issues at tackle became clear in their first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, who played almost exclusively backups on Sunday. In the first series alone, Davenport surrendered three pressures and a pair of quarterback hits against starter Jacob Eason. Holden, meanwhile, was responsible for the strip/sack of Eason on the third series of the game when he was roasted off the edge by Panthers reserve Marquis Haynes. In the next series, Holden was flagged for a false start.

Asked for initial impressions of the offensive tackles after the game, coach Frank Reich said he’d need to watch the film to know for sure, but he didn’t sound impressed.

“There are times the protection was good, a couple of times it was a little soft,” Reich said. “Looking (at the stats), three sacks, that’s too many by our standards.”

A couple of days later, after having the benefit of watching the film, offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, too, offered faint praise.

“I thought there was some good,” he said. “There was a little bit of pressure here and there but overall, throughout the game, I thought they got better. … It might have started a little slow for them but overall I thought they improved as the game went on.”

It’s possible none of the three emerge as a viable option, but it’s also possible it might not matter as much as we once thought.

Frankly, it’s hard to know exactly how dire the Colts’ situation at left tackle is. That’s because Fisher’s timeline to return remains a mystery. Coming off an Achilles tear he suffered in January, it didn’t seem fair to expect he’d be ready to go by Week 1. In fact, initially it didn’t seem as if September was even in play, especially after general manager Chris Ballard said the Colts had no intention of pushing Fisher onto the field until he was ready.

But it’s getting difficult to tell how soon that might be.

Fisher remains on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list and hasn’t been a participant at practice, but he’s been present almost every day, slowly ramping up his rehabilitation. On Thursday, he was the last Colt on the field after practice, and he looked to be undergoing a pretty rigourous offensive line-specific workout with team trainers.

Less than two weeks ago, Reich said he watched Fisher go through workouts and thought he looked “really good.”

“In fact, I saw him doing something the other day and I yelled over, ‘Put some pads on him!’ I thought he looked that good,” Reich said. “More importantly, just talking to him, he’s got – this sounds corny but I’m going to say it anyways – the eye of the tiger. You can just tell this guy is locked in. That’s what’s most important to me, is that the player has a mindset of I have to fight to get back Week 1, Week 2, whatever it is. I just sense that the man is doing everything he can do to be back the very first day he can be back and not a second later. So that’s what I sense and feel from him.”

While the Colts might be feeling optimistic about Fisher’s return timeline, the same cannot be said of the options they’re looking at behind him.

However many games Fisher misses, the Colts are going to need someone to step in and play adequate football — especially if starting quarterback Carson Wentz isn’t ready to go early in the season. If Wentz is out, that means the Colts will probably be starting a quarterback making his regular-season NFL debut — either Eason or Sam Ehlinger. Both of them, but particularly Eason, who isn’t very mobile and struggles with holding onto the ball too long, are going to require a quality offensive line to find success.

If All-Pro Quenton Nelson (foot) is back at left guard, that should help the Colts cover up deficiencies off the left edge. The same goes for starting center and offensive line general Ryan Kelly (elbow), who didn’t practice Thursday but looks as if he’s nearing a return.

The closer the offensive line can get to full strength, the easier it’s going to be for Reich to draw up plays and protections to hide whatever liability there may be on the left side of the line.

Reich’s going to have to do that no matter who ends up winning the job. None of them are going to suddenly turn into Anthony Castonzo and be able to handle an entire game’s worth of one-on-one assignments. But if one of them could step up and start playing more capable of football, it would make Reich’s life a whole heck of a lot easier.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indianapolis Colts: Left tackle is a big hole with Eric Fisher out