Blind luck

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Colts tackle Anthony Castonzo drops back to block against St. Louis during a game in November. Castonzo has become good friends with quarterback Andrew Luck. "He doesn't really take himself too seriously, which is pretty incredible for someone in the position that he's in," Castonzo said.

    Colts tackle Anthony Castonzo drops back to block against St. Louis during a game in November. Castonzo has become good friends with quarterback Andrew Luck. "He doesn't really take himself too seriously, which is pretty incredible for someone in the position that he's in," Castonzo said. Associated Press

 
Updated 12/23/2013 5:44 PM

As a general rule, it's best if the offensive tackle charged with protecting the franchise quarterback's blind side gets along with said quarterback.

Well, the Indianapolis Colts are getting the best of both worlds with quarterback Andrew Luck and left tackle and Hawthorn Woods native Anthony Castonzo. Luck and Castonzo play nice -- and they play well.

 

Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, has helped lead the Colts to two AFC South titles in as many seasons. And Castonzo, a Lake Zurich High School product, has been the left tackle for all of Luck's NFL starts.

"He's an extremely humble guy, and he's a great teammate," Castonzo said of Luck in a telephone interview with the Daily Herald. "And actually, he and I have become very good friends, because we're kind of on the same wavelength in terms of just coming to work and (being) ready to work. He doesn't really take himself too seriously, which is pretty incredible for someone in the position that he's in."

The old saw is that offensive linemen are best when they go unnoticed and simply blend into the background. There's some truth to that, but in a time when the NFL is scrutinized more closely than ever, no positions escape heavy study, even those positions where common statistics do not easily apply.

And by one noted set of metrics, Castonzo's work at left tackle this season has been judged to be quite solid.

Football analytics firm Pro Football Focus, which grades all positions on offense and defense, rates Castonzo 24th out of the 62 offensive tackles who have played at least half of their team's snaps. PFF grades Castonzo especially well as a run blocker, where he's garnered the third-best rating among tackles through 14 games. Though PFF has Castonzo with allowing 35 pass-rush hurries, he has allowed just 7 QB hits and 4 sacks in 944 snaps.

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A three-year starter with the 9-5 Colts, Castonzo's experience has paid dividends.

"It's like the more you do it, your confidence just kind of builds and builds. I'm very confident in myself now, which allows me to do my technique better," he said.

As Castonzo notes, proper technique is especially key in pass protection, and in Sunday's game at Kansas City (noon, CBS), he's likely to face star outside linebacker Tamba Hali, who has 11 sacks for 11-3 Kansas City.

"He's a very savvy pass rusher. He's got a lot of moves. He's obviously physically incredibly gifted -- big, fast, strong," Castonzo said. "It's definitely going to be a challenge."

That's the type of challenge the Colts had in mind when they drafted him in the first round in 2011. A third-team all-American as a senior, Castonzo was a four-year starter at Boston College after one season at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, where he attended in 2006 after graduating from Lake Zurich.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Castonzo, who still keeps in touch with friends from Illinois, fondly remembers his time playing prep football for the Bears.

"Probably my best friends for life came from that team. Just getting ready for the game, running around the field together with those guys was probably one of my best memories," Castonzo said.

Castonzo is never too far away from home; his parents, Bill and Shari, attend all of their son's games.

Asked what he missed most about being away from home, Castonzo replied: "That one's easy -- it's my mom's cooking."

Asked for his mother's top dish, he doesn't hesitate.

"It's like the Sunday red gravy, where she makes the marinara sauce, basically starts as soon as she wakes up in the morning, cooks it all day with braciole, neck bones, all in the sauce, then pan-fries meatballs," Anthony Castonzo said. "Put it over some perciatell pasta, and that is my all-time favorite."

Like a good sauce, a winning team needs a quality base, and having a reliable left tackle for the young franchise quarterback is a good foundation to have on hand.

• Mike Wilkening has covered the NFL for more than a decade. You can read his work at Pro Football Talk, The Linemakers at Sporting News and NBC New York, among other publications. He can be followed on Twitter @mikewilkening. Email him at wilkening.michael@gmail.com.

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