Selection of McClendon in Fourth Round Adds to Competitive OL Situation, Polian Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Bill Polian said he won't predict the future.
And Polian – now in his 13th season as the Colts' president – said for that matter, when it comes to how the 2010 NFL Draft will influence the offensive line next season, there's really no need to look too far ahead just yet.
The Colts on Saturday made five selections, with the first two coming on the offensive front and the first selection of the day coming at offensive guard. That was Jacques McClendon, a powerful player from the University of Tennessee.
Will McClendon have a chance to play immediately?
How will the offensive line look entering next season?
Polian, speaking during his 13th draft as Colts president, said those questions are as yet unknown, and he and Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell each said the questions may be decided by intense competition.
And Polian said that's very much OK.
"Put them in the pot," Polian said early Saturday, shortly after the Colts selected McClendon in the fourth round and Oklahoma tight end Brody Eldridge in the fifth and before the team's final three selections of the three-day draft. "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.
"We'll play the five best players. Position doesn't really mean much."
The Colts, after selecting three defensive players on Thursday and Friday – defensive end Jerry Hughes (Texas Christian, Round 1), middle linebacker Pat Angerer (Iowa, Round 2) and cornerback Kevin Thomas (Southern California, Round 3) – focused on the offensive front early Saturday.
They took McClendon (6-feet-3, 324 pounds) with the draft's No. 129 overall selection – the 31st selection of Round 4 – then selected Eldridge with the No. 162 selection overall, the 31st selection of Round 5.
"All of the things we're doing with the offensive line and our tight end position, we're looking improve in those areas in and out of those situations and our goal-line and short-yardage as well," Caldwell said.
Of how the line will play out, Caldwell said, "Good, healthy competition."
The Colts, who traded their sixth-round selection to the Philadelphia Eagles to select punter Pat McAfee in Round 7 last season, then finished the day with three seventh-round selections:
• Ricardo Mathews (6-3, 294), defensive tackle, Cincinnati, No. 238 overall.
• Kavell Conner (6-0, 242), outside linebacker, Clemson, No. 240 overall.
• Ray Fisher (5-9, 185), cornerback, Indiana, No. 246 overall.
McClendon, an All-Academic Southeastern Conference selection, could compete quickly at the guard position, Polian and Caldwell said Saturday.
The Colts last season started Ryan Lilja at left guard throughout the season, with Kyle DeVan replacing 2008 second-round selection Mike Pollak in the lineup at right guard early in the season. The Colts released Lilja early this off-season, with DeVan, Pollak and seventh-round selection Jaimie Thomas on the roster.
"He gives us a pretty stout guy inside at the guard position and one with obviously athleticism as well," Caldwell said of McClendon. "He's a guy who can give us some real anchor there in the middle. He's highly competitive and an extremely bright guy. He's a guy who has intellectual capability to learn our system and learn it quickly."
Polian said McClendon was a similar selection to past linemen selected by the Colts in Rounds 4-5, a group that includes not only starting right tackle Ryan Diem (fourth round, 2001), but former starting guard Jake Scott (fourth round, 2004), now starting for Tennessee.
"We feel like he's in the mold of the same kind of players we've drafted in the fourth round before that have come in here and performed well on the offensive line," Polian said. "We're happy to have the pick, and happy to have him."
And while McClendon did not attend all-star games or the NFL Scouting Combine, Polian said such factors don't influence the Colts' evaluation process.
"We've taken other players who haven't been to the combine," Polian said. "We don't think that's a positive or a negative, to be truthful with you. The fact is, we think he has the tools to be exactly what Jake Scott was, and exactly what Ryan Diem was. They were all players we drafted in that round who came in and performed very well for us. They're athletic. They're smart. They can move around. It's a good place for them.
"We don't see any reason he can't come in and compete for a job."
Eldridge, a two-year team captain, played extensively this past season when Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham – a first-round selection by the Cincinnati Bengals – missed the season with a knee injury. Eldridge also played guard, fullback and center.
"He's an outstanding, tenacious blocker – physical, tough and can move you," Polian said.
Polian said while Eldridge doesn't have extensive experience as a receiving tight end, "That's not what we were overly interested in at that point.
"We were looking for someone who could improve the blocking at the point of attack, both in short-yardage and goal-line, in four-minute and in our basic double tight-end packages," Polian said. "We were quite satisfied that he can do that, and we're anxious to have him."
Said Caldwell of Eldridge, "He's a very fine inside blocker, and one who can handle the edge both from a pass-protection standpoint, and certainly a run-game standpoint. He should be able give us some help in our short-yardage area of play – four minutes, things of that nature.
"He also can play on first and second down as well. He's going to have to develop a little bit in terms of the passing game, but overall, I think he's going to be a great addition for us."
Also on Saturday:
• Polian said entering the draft the Colts were aware there was an "infinitesimal" chance they would select an offensive tackle early. "This was a very thin draft for offensive tackle," Polian said. "Once you got past the first down, it thinned out pretty dramatically. From my perspective, it was a thin draft for offensive tackles. We don't ever believe in forcing a pick, or in trying to fill a need that you are hoping would fill the need." Polian also said he believes the Colts' current tackles – Diem, left tackle Charlie Johnson, Tony Ugoh and newly-signed Adam Terry – capable. "We think we're OK at tackle with the players we have," he said. "We didn't do too badly last year. We added Terry, who's a good, competitive guy. If he comes off the injury in good shape, we feel we have a good, competitive player there. As I said, once those early tackles went off, there were other names you heard, but there were medical concerns and things of that nature that caused that to be less then stellar. Once we went through our first run through in February, it was obvious it wasn't a bang-up year for tackles."
• Polian said he wasn't overly worried about finding a kickoff/punt returner in the draft. "That's a luxury," he said. "If you can find someone who can do both, that's great. If you can't, you can still do quite well. It just gives you a little less flexibility roster-wise. That's not a position I'm losing sleep over." He said wide receiver Sam Giguere is currently in the kickoff returner position with cornerback Jerraud Powers in the punt returning position. "I have some trepidation about using Powers there, but we'll see," he said.
• Kicker Adam Vinatieri, who missed much of last season with hip and ankle injuries, is "right on schedule," Polian said.