Colts bench Danny Pinter, start Will Fries at right guard

INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts have made a change to the starting offensive line, a unit that has struggled mightily through the first three weeks of the season, for this week’s AFC South showdown against the Tennessee Titans.

Second-year guard Will Fries was lined up with the starters at right guard. Danny Pinter, the starter at the position for the team’s first three games, spent most of the team’s warmups playing center behind Ryan Kelly, the spot he occupied his first two seasons in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis has given up 12 sacks in the first three weeks of the season, the third-worst mark in the NFL. Under Colts head coach Frank Reich, the Colts have never finished worse than tied for ninth in the league in sacks allowed.

The Colts did not tip their hand to a lineup change this week.

Asked repeatedly about potential changes on the offensive line, Reich and offensive line coach Chris Strausser deflected any questions.

“We’ve got our eight guys that we always anticipate being up on game day,” Strausser said earlier this week. “Guys are ready to go in wherever, and we have (changed it up) some in the past with (Mark) Glowinski and (Chris) Reed where we let those guys rotate a little bit. … We’re just talking about continuing to get better as a group right now.”

The Colts cleared the way for Pinter to join the starting lineup at right guard this offseason, allowing both Glowinski and Reed to leave in free agency without making a similar veteran addition to compete for the spot.

But all of Pinter’s 330 snaps in the NFL in his first two seasons came at the center position, and through the first three games, Pinter’s lack of physical power was exploited by opposing defensive linemen. On one play last week, Kansas City defensive end Frank Clark ran over Pinter for a sack on Ryan.

“It’s a different spot, for sure, which is why some guys play their whole career at center,” Strausser said. “But at the end of the day, when you’re trying to be in that mode of trying to put your best five out there, there has to be a little bit of carryover from one position to the other, and an inside guy has to have the flexibility to play center or guard.”

The Colts stopped short of burying Pinter at the position this week, even though it has been clear that he’s struggled more than any of the other offensive linemen so far.

“He’s done a lot of good things,” Strausser said. “There’s some plays he’d like to have back, we’d all like to have back. He doesn’t have the experience there that he does at center. (Center’s) a little more natural for him still, to this point, but feel like he’s continuing to make progress.”

Fries, a seventh-round pick out of Penn State in 2021, is a bit of a gamble in his own right.

He played just 22 snaps as a rookie, and he has not played a snap offensively yet this season.

But the way the Colts were playing up front, they almost had to make a move.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts bench Danny Pinter, start Will Fries at right guard