Competition Expected Throughout the Off-Season on the Offensive Line
INDIANAPOLIS – In a very real sense, Jeff Saturday said things are as they always have been.
And as Saturday sees it, that's a good thing.
Saturday, the Colts' four-time Pro Bowl center, said late last week while there likely will be competition across most of the offensive line in the coming months, not only is that an acceptable situation, it potentially is a productive one, too.
Saturday, after all, is entering his 12th season with the Colts. He also started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent.
So, when it comes to competition . . .
Well, it's not as if he hasn't seen some over the last decade.
"It's always been the same ever since I've been here," Saturday said recently following a session of the Colts' 2010 organized team activities, four weeks of on-field, team-oriented activities scheduled to be held through June 11 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"Guys always have had opunities. That's how I got my start, and it's how so many of us did. You just get your chance and you make the best of your opportunities.
"I think every year you go in the same way."
The Colts' offensive line, long one of the NFL's top units, has undergone change this off-season. That change began at the top and included a long-time starter.
Howard Mudd, the offensive line coach since 1998, retired following Super Bowl XLIV, with Pete Metzelaars – a Colts assistant since 2004 – taking his place. Also this off-season, Ryan Lilja – a starter at guard since 2004 – was released, later signing with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Just how the line will look next season remains uncertain, with Colts President Bill Polian saying recently the team likely will "put them in the pot."
"As (former offensive line coach) Howard (Mudd) used to say, you throw them all in the pot and what comes out in late August is what you have," Polian said. "We'll play the five best players. Position doesn't really mean much."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell addressed the area last week as OTAs began.
"I think particularly on our line, I think it's going to be a very good, solid, competitive situation," Caldwell said. "It's like my old high school coach would always say, 'Cream will always rise to the top,' so we'll see what happens.
"Certainly, what we're looking for is improvement. That's the key. We want to become a better unit overall, in all phases as a result of our work this spring and also in training camp as well."
Saturday, the longest-tenured starter on the line, said improvement ideally would mean running more effectively. The Colts during the last decade typically have been among the NFL leaders in fewest sacks allowed, but finished 32nd in rushing last season and 31st in 2008. Saturday said because the Colts typically are among the NFL's top passing offenses they concern themselves more with yards per carry than rushing yards per game, but he said that area could improve, too.
"I think we averaged somewhere near four (yards) a carry, or three point something a carry," Saturday said. "You'd like it to be four something a carry. You probably want a half yard better a carry and that's always how we've been focused. We've never focused on what we averaged per game. It's always per carry for our team.
"What you try to reduce is your minus-yard plays and your zero-yards plays. That kills an offense like ours. We like to stay in time, so those were the things we really focus on improving."
The Colts currently have seven guards on the roster: Kyle DeVan, a 2009 starter at right guard; Mike Pollak, a 2008 starter at right guard; Jaimie Thomas, a 2009 seventh-round draft selection; Jacques McClendon, a 2010 fourth-round draft selection; Jamey Richard, a 2008 seventh-round draft selection; 2010 collegiate free-agent Gregg Peat; and Andy Alleman, a third-year veteran who signed this off-season as a veteran free agent.
"That's a good problem to have on your team," Pollak said. "That depth is something we really haven't had in a while, so it's going to be good for us."'
They also have seven tackles – 2009 starters Ryan Diem (right) and Charlie Johnson (left), as well as 2007-2008 starter Tony Ugoh, rookie free agents Andrew Tyshovnytsky and Jeff Linkenbach, first-year veteran Gerald Cadogan and Adam Terry, a fifth-year veteran who signed as a free agent after five seasons with Baltimore.
"The competition never stops," Ugoh said. "At any position, the competition never stops. It's about who's going to do the best job and they're going to put the best guys out there. That's the game."
Who plays where "will be up to Pete (Metzelaars) and whatever he decides," Saturday said. "Going into every year it's kind of the same. You have guys who have played and performed in the past, and you see if you can hold onto your job. The new guys get their opportunity to take swings at it.
"You never know. It's however well guys play. I would always tend to think that if you perform in the past and play well you show what you have, it's kind of your job to lose. There's always opportunity. They don't bring guys in every year for no reason.
"They're always looking to do something. We'll see how it shakes down."