INDIANAPOLIS — If a fan of blue-collar Indianapolis Colts players, then Joe Haeg is your guy.
While the same could be said of all the Colts’ offensive linemen, Haeg has epitomized versatility from the beginning, after the North Dakota State teammate of Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz was selected in the fifth round in 2016.
Haeg became the first NFL rookie to start at three offensive line positions — right guard, right tackle and left guard — since Kyle Turley in 1998. And that’s continued to be the story of his NFL life.
As the Colts prepare to face Wentz and the reigning Super Bowl champion Eagles on Sunday at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, Haeg will make his second consecutive start at right tackle. In the season opener, he was at left tackle for the injured Anthony Castonzo, the O-line elder statesman who has been unable to play in his eighth year due to a lingering hamstring injury.
Colts first-year coach Frank Reich has emphasized that the guys blocking in front of quarterback Andrew Luck have to be interchangeable. Haeg certainly knows the drill.
“It’s just something I’ve been able to do since I got here,” he said Wednesday. “My rookie year, they were throwing me around everywhere. It’s something I’ve been able to do decent at and kind of adapt on the fly and something that has continued to help me out.”
The 6-6 and 305-pound lineman has now started 21 games at right tackle, seven at right guard, two at left guard and one at left tackle. The Colts used Le’Raven Clark at left tackle in Sunday’s 21-9 win at Washington. Neither Clark nor Haeg allowed a sack. Their assigned pass rushers combined for only one quarterback hit, prompting Luck to say of his line, “They’ve given us a chance to win.”
“You love hearing that,” Haeg said of No. 12’s compliment.
While he probably didn’t appreciate hearing Eagles defensive Brandon Graham’s assessment of facing Haeg on Sunday — “From what I see so far, it’s going to be a good day” — don’t expect Haeg to respond to trash talk.
“I definitely don’t look for stuff like that. I never have,” Haeg said to colts.com on Thursday. “I don’t really put too much into it.”
The 25-year-old Haeg still communicates with his old college buddy Wentz, who will make his season debut on Sunday.
“We were just talking about random stuff, and he says, ‘I hope you lose,’” Haeg said to colts.com. “And then I said, ‘I hope we score more points than you.’”
Haeg will have his hands full with Graham, whose career year in 2018 included 47 total tackles and 9.5 sacks. But that’s the NFL. It’s a challenge every week.
“We have high expectations for ourselves,” Haeg said. “There are a couple of times where we still mess up. We’ve still got to kind of keep that mentality of no matter how good we do, even if we give up zero sacks and zero hits, there’s still areas where we can improve.”
The fact that Castonzo’s injury kept him out of preseason games, too, helped prepare the line and Haeg for adjusting to everything.
“We’ve had guys rotating in everywhere,” Haeg said. “So you get used to all the different possible combination of guys. You can’t think about it. You obviously don’t want him to get hurt, but it’s the NFL, and especially with the offensive line, guys get hurt.”
Don’t be surprised if at some point, Haeg also plays center. He was the emergency backup last season and, although he hasn’t played that position at any level, he’s practiced it enough to sound confident. So much so, he teased Colts starting center Ryan Kelly.
“I’m the best center here. Don’t tell Kelly that,” Haeg said with a smile, turning to look toward his teammate. “No, but I’m ready if I need to go in there.”