INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts’ offensive line — the guys quarterback Andrew Luck likes to say “grind meat’’ — has been minced up like so much ground sirloin most of this season. The only constant has been left tackle Anthony Castonzo, the nimble, gargantuan left tackle who has been every bit the cornerstone that he was for four seasons (2007-10) at Boston College.
“Just a guy you don’t worry about,’’ said coach Chuck Pagano, whose Colts will the Patriots on Sunday at Foxborough for the AFC championship. “When you put your head on the pillow at night, you don’t worry about AC.’’
Now in his fourth season with the Colts, the 26-year-old Castonzo has played and started in 60 games since being the Colts’ first-round pick (No. 22 overall) in the 2011 draft. That run has included every game this season, in which no fewer than eight other Colts have filled the line’s four other slots, all the while limiting Luck’s sacks to a career-best 27. In the playoffs, he has been sacked just once in attempting 87 passes in victories over the Bengals and Broncos.
Keeping the quarterback “clean’’ is the No. 1 mission of any offensive line, a chore made harder when the line changes faster than a Cirque du Soleil set. A 96.2 percent success rate (including the playoffs) for the pass protection corps was what, in part, had Luck telling Pagano that this is the freshest and strongest he has felt so late in the year in his three NFL seasons. If necessary, said Luck, he feels he could roll right into training camp.
“It’s kind of weird for us seeing the same guys [on the line], but it’s nice,’’ said Castonzo, who’ll start Sunday with the same beefy brothers for a third week in a row — the first time that’s happened since the opening three games of the season. “We definitely are starting to feel each other out. We’re getting comfortable.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play next to Jack [Mewhort] for a lot of weeks this year so we’re on the same page with a lot of things. I know how he’s going to pass off a twist or how he does a certain double team. We kind of know how to fit it, and I think the guys on the right side are starting to get comfortable as well.”
Castonzo, who wasn’t a top college recruit until he tuned up for a half-season at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, will line up on the left with Mewhort, a rookie from Ohio State, with Khaled Holmes at center and the combination of Lance Louis, the ex-Charger, and the versatile Joe Reitz on the right. Reitz — the team’s Swiss Army knife, according to Castonzo — had been a career guard until injuries this season forced him to shift to tackle.
“He has been a big help to me, talking about tackle and different technique and talking about guys, the rushers you are facing,’’ said Reitz. “But you know, Castonzo’s our leader, he’s been the rock, started every game.
“He does a great job, not only leading by example on the field and playing well, which he’s obviously done this year, but also in the meeting rooms and taking command and showing that leadership. The rest of us have kind of played off him, followed his lead.’’
“He is so reliable,’’ added Pagano. “Character. Trustworthy. Smart. Tough. Physical. Loves the game.’’
A basketball, football, and track standout at Lake Zurich High near Chicago, the studious Castonzo was thought not to have the frame or demeanor for Division 1 and was considered more likely a Division 3 candidate. But his play at Fork Union led to a scholarship at The Heights, where he earned his degree in biochemistry.
Four strong seasons at Chestnut Hill, where he was tutored by fellow Colts tackle Gosder Cherilus, positioned him perfectly for the 2011 draft.
“I think of Gosder, who was there when I first got there, who is here now,’’ said the 6-foot-7-inch, 311-pound Castonzo, asked how BC best shaped his game for NFL success. “The guys [at BC] preach that physical attitude. You take pride in what you do. You never really let somebody beat you, and if they beat you, come back fighting the next play.”
Despite his time there, said Castonzo, he did not become a Patriots fan.
“I was all Boston College when I was in New England,” he said. “I wasn’t really following the Patriots.’’
Provided there is no shift in career trajectory — not always a safe bet in the NFL — Castonzo would stay with Luck, helping to shield him from blind-side hits, for years to come. Not a bad gig.
“Obviously, this is my first AFC Championship [game], as it is for a lot of guys on this team,’’ said Castonzo, reluctant to look too far ahead. “The playoffs, you realize that it is another football game. It’s not something super or a lot grander than what it is. You’ve got to break it down to what it actually is, and that’s another football game.
“The only difference is, in this one, if you lose, you’re out; and if you win, you stay in. You definitely realize you have to focus in a little bit more, but it’s just a football game at the end of the day.”