INDIANAPOLIS – Dave DeGuglielmo is everything an offensive line coach should be. He looks like one. Thinks like one. Yells like one. He is beautifully blunt, a man with no time for pleasantries and no interest in clichés. Ask him a question, he tells you what he thinks.
No spin. No coachspeak. Just truth.
He also might be doing a better job than any position coach in football this year. No unit in 2018 has remade itself, and revived itself, more substantially than the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive line. For years, they were the butt of jokes, the Achilles heel of this franchise. No more. Now they’re one of the best lines in football, and they have the numbers to back it up.
Eleven games in, the Colts sit tied for first in the league with just 11 sacks allowed – an unthinkable metric considering the fat totals they’d allowed since quarterback Andrew Luck entered the league in 2012: 41, 32, 29, 37, 44 and 56. During a brilliant four-game stretch, the line went 239 consecutive dropbacks without allowing a single sack, the NFL’s longest such streak since 1991. That’s 27 years.
My how things have changed.
How has Gugs done it? He expounded on a variety of topics Thursday, including how Quenton Nelson’s nastiness has changed film sessions, whether Mark Glowinski is the league’s best-kept secret and how Frank Reich does it differently from any coach he’s ever been around:
» On how Quenton Nelson has changed the vibe in the o-line room:
He’s changed the way the game is played with those guys, or at least, changed the accepted level of play beyond, ‘I’m blocking my guy.’ You see him knock people down, you see him go after linebackers. He plays with a nastiness and brings out the natural nastiness in other players.
To put a guy down? That’s one thing. To put a guy down and lay on him, it’s another thing. You know what I’m saying? You put a guy down and don’t let him get up? That’s a third thing. There’s a degree of, ‘I’m going to make sure you understand what happened to you.’ And it’s natural to him. That’s a great thing. It’s not just how you finish a guy. It’s knocking him down and making sure he stays down.
Let me put it this way: I have a Rottweiler. He’s the friendliest guy you know. But you come in the house in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t want to be there, you know? I wouldn’t want to be that guy. Now, he’s never messed with anybody while I’m standing there, but I wouldn’t want to walk in on him in the middle of the night. (Nelson) plays to the whistle, plays right to the whistle, and he goes down there and picks up his teammates every single play. Most unusual thing I’ve ever seen. Doesn’t matter where it is.
When they get to the bench after a scoring drive, they’re comparing how many times they knocked their guy down – this is what they’re talking about. ‘Coach, I got three.’ ‘Coach, I got four. You’ll see it on the tape.’ And they’ll check the sheet, ‘Hey coach, you missed one, this was a knockdown.’ Because they’re understanding this: We may not come out of the gate on the first play and knock you back five yards, but if we chip away at you, and we are relentless, and are on you and we are cutting you and knocking you down and we are taking a second hit and we are pushing you to the whistle, eventually, you’re gonna start looking. Where is Glowinski? Where is Nelson? Where’s Kelly? Where’s Boehm? Where are they coming from?
Everybody has a vision of those old-time nasty, tape on the arms, the J pad, little dirt on the face, a little bit of blood coming from their nose (linemen of the past). Well, if you put tape on these guys’ wrists and have dirt and old-time facemasks, these guys would be throwbacks to the 50s and 60s. That’s how they play the game, and play within the rules. These guys – with Quenton being a shining example – they know how to finish a football play.
» On whether he’s out there to break his opponent’s will:
That’s what he does. He’s showing (the veterans), ‘This is how I do it.’ And what they’re seeing, right, is ‘Hey, look at that.’ They’re excited to watch some of the things that go on. I’ve seen it in every room. And here I got more than one. And that’s beautiful because they look forward to analyzing the tape, for more than just, ‘Did we get it right? Did we get it wrong?’ Analyzing footwork, where I put my hands … all that other stuff. Which makes watching the film, in some respects, fun, because there are so many exciting things going on.
One thing I’ll say about (Quenton) is he’s not a cheap player. I’m really glad people haven’t painted him that way. There’s no way that he’s cheap. He doesn’t play beyond the whistle. He doesn’t put his hands in guys masks, he doesn’t hold guys, because he doesn’t have to. And that’s what is beautiful about how he plays. He plays within the framework of the game. He plays up, he plays physical. And he’s just explosive.
» How Nelson has helped veteran left tackle Anthony Castonzo improve:
Castonzo’s actually altered his game to help Quenton be more efficient, which is a tremendous thing for a veteran like that, especially a left tackle, to alter your game to a rookie. He understands that, and he’s bought in: how he sets will affect Quenton, which will then affect (Ryan) Kelly, which… and so on and so forth.
Anthony has done a much better job this year of finishing plays, and I think that goes across the board. That’s one of the things that was lacking (in the past).
He did it the other day (vs. Miami), he was peeking around in the middle of a block, and it was in the middle of a play and I said, ‘Stop the film!’ I said, ‘Anthony, what are you looking for?’ They wanna see what’s going on. If you’re looking over there, you’re not finishing your guy. You don’t need to be a spectator. You need to finish. If you’re done with that guy, go find another one. That’s the attitude these interior guys are really getting.
» On whether Mark Glowinski is one of the best-kept secrets in football:
I don’t know if it’s a secret anymore. I get calls from all over the league, my fellow coaches, and the first question they ask is, ‘Where’d you find 64?’ It’s usually calling about some scheme, a team we played, whatever, or to share some thoughts. ‘Boy you got a good one in 56 (Nelson), but where’d you find 64?’ Like, right away they transition into Glowinski. He jumps off the tape because he’s faster than any of them, to be honest with you. He’s the fastest guy I got, flat-out running. And when he plays, he sometimes looks like the Tasmanian Devil out there. He was once a secret, and again, I credit Chris Ballard and his crew for finding that and knowing that there was something there.
» How Frank Reich is different from any other head coach he’s worked with:
Look, I’ve been around (Lou) Holtz, (Bill) Belichick and (Tom) Coughlin, I’ve been around some good head coaches, I’ve worked with some really, really high-respected head coaches, and I would say Frank does as good a job as any of those guys managing these people, knowing his players … He’s done a masterful job of keeping the o-line – which is usually looked at like a separate entity, (like) we operate in a bubble sometimes – (included).
The guy who leads the (blitz) meeting – I’ve been around a long time, and it’s always been the line coach – here, it’s the head coach. We all do our research and get ready, but Frank runs it. And if you can imagine what it’s like … it’s a different meeting. Andrew sits right in the front row, next to the center. Sometimes (if you’re an offensive lineman) you don’t see the head coach, don’t even interact with the head coach unless he’s yelling at you about something. Here, Frank runs the meeting twice a week. And we don’t go to him. He comes into the o-line room and stands in the front of the room. And you can’t take away the significance of that for linemen who, for years and years, the head coach has been (in another part of the building). He’s with them. He’s in the trenches with them. And it’s probably a result of him playing QB behind guys like that. And I love it.