Catching Up with Colts President Bill Polian
INDIANAPOLIS – Bill Polian likes what he sees.
Because while the Colts' president said that – as is the case in any offseason – there is work to be done to hone the roster before the 2009 season, overall there is a solid base offensively and defensively.
The base features many young players, Polian said.
As imant, the base features young players with potential to get better.
Polian, entering his 12th season as the Colts' president, spent time in Houston, Texas, last weekend scouting the East-West Shrine game, and he said he plans to scout the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., this week, to continue preparations for April's NFL Draft.
Late last week, Polian discussed the state of the team's roster – and his outlook for next season – and said he very much likes the situation.
"I think there's lot of good young talent on this team," Polian said. "There's a lot of young talent there that I think will grow and get better. I'm very optimistic. We have work to do, but you always do.
"Nobody's ever perfect, but I really like where we're going."
He said that's particularly true on offense, where he said a core has been reestablished and a tone for the future set.
"I think you can make the argument we really retooled the offense last year," he said.
The Colts, after ranking in the Top 10 in the NFL in total offense from 1999-2007, finished 15th in the category this season, doing so in a season in which Polian said the unit made significant progress toward getting younger in key areas.
On the offensive line, two rookies – center Jamey Richard and guard Mike Pollak – played extensively, while another rookie, guard Steve Justice, also saw action. Pollak, a second-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, started the final 13 games of the regular season at right guard, and Richard – a seventh-round selection – started four games at center and three at guard.
Justice, a sixth-round selection, appeared in eight games, and started one.
Polian said with veterans Dan Federkeil and Charlie Johnson playing well this season, and with the potential return of guard Ryan Lilja – who started from 2004-2007 before spending last season on the Physically Unable to Perform List – the offense line could be solid.
"If we get Lilja back, we have a full complement of people on the offensive line," he said.
Polian said he saw similar potential at wide receiver, with rookie Pierre Garcon and second-year veteran Roy Hall playing well in spots, while a trio of young tight ends – rookies Tom Santi and Jacob Tamme and first-year veteran Gijon Robinson – also developed.
Tamme, a fourth-round selection, played in 12 games, catching three passes for 12 yards, while Santi – a sixth-round selection – appeared in six games, starting two. He caught 10 passes for 64 yards, with his lone touchdown of the season helping the Colts to a dramatic, come-from-behind victory at Houston in September.
Garcon, a sixth-round selection, appeared in 14 games, catching four passes for 23 yards and also returning punts and kicks. He returned 22 kickoffs for a 21.6-yard average, and also returned a punt for five yards.
"He was a valuable special teams contributor and he showed every sign of becoming a really good receiver," Polian said.
Hall, who played in three games as a rookie, played in four this past season, catching one pass for nine yards in the regular-season finale against Tennessee.
"Roy Hall, when he played, played well," Polian said. "He's been bitten by the injury bug two years in a row. We'll see if he can avoid that, but if he can, he should be pretty good."
Robinson, who spent 2007 on the Colts' practice squad, started 14 of 15 games in which he played last season, catching 19 passes for 166 yards.
"Gijon Robinson grew into his role," Polian said. "He'll be only better."
Polian also said he liked the performance of sixth-round running back Mike Hart before a season-ending knee injury against Baltimore on October 12. Hart rushed for nine yards on two carries, with one of the carries a crucial first down-converting run against the Ravens.
"It was a serious knee injury and that's always worrisome for a running back, but he certainly proved before he was injured that he could play in this league," Polian said. "He showed every sign of developing into the short-yardage and goal-line back we were looking for. We'll see how he is coming off the knee injury."
Polian also said Chad Simpson and Lance Ball – a pair of rookie free-agent running backs – played well when needed, with practice squad wide receiver Taj Smith and Sam Giguere also showing potential.
"I think they'll really have a chance to develop," Polian said of Smith and Giguere, adding of Simpson and Ball, "These are players who are pretty good players, who stepped up, had to play and played well."
Simpson, who spent the first five games on the practice squad, played the final 11 games, rushing for 45 yards on 15 carries. He also led the Colts with a 22.9-yard average on 15 kickoff returns. Ball spent two and a half months on the practice squad, rushing for 83 yards on 13 carries against Tennessee in the regular-season finale.
"I think we have a good group of young offensive players who really will grow and develop – offensive line, tight ends, wide receivers, running backs," Polian said, adding, "Defensively, we have a little work to do."
Polian, though, also said several young players had strong seasons on defense, including linebacker Clint Session – who Polian said "came into his own" – and safety Melvin Bullitt, who led the Colts with four interceptions and whom Polian called "the find of the year."
Philip Wheeler, a rookie linebacker and a third-round draft selection, had 14 special teams tackles – a total that tied for fourth on the team.
"Philip Wheeler was an outstanding special teams player and there's every reason to believe he'll grow into an outstanding linebacker," Polian said.
Polian also said rookie defensive ends Curtis Johnson and Marcus Howard showed signs of "tremendous upside," as did second-year defensive tackle Antonio Johnson, who started four of eight games after the Colts signed him from Tennessee's practice squad on November 4.
Polian said defensive tackle Dan Muir and safety Brannon Condren could play a role, while rookie safety Jamie Silva – a free-agent from Boston College – had 12 special teams tackles and "proved he could play under pressure."
In the secondary, third-year cornerback Tim Jennings started four games at left corner and eight at right corner, with Polian saying he "proved he could play fulltime and do a good job." Jennings had two interceptions, defensed eight passes, forced two fumbles and recovered two more.
Polian said Nick Graham played well in the secondary and on special teams before being placed on injured reserve in November, and he said second-year defensive back Michael Coe – who missed the season with a knee injury after playing six games as a rookie – should return.
"What little he has played, he has been good," Polian said of Coe. "He, too, has been bitten by the injury bug. There are a lot of good young players on this team who have a change to be really good moving forward."
Polian said as typically has been the case during his tenure, the main means by which to increase the talent will be the draft. The Colts typically have eschewed high-priced, high-profile free agents from other teams, instead building by the draft and re-signing their own players.
"We always get help from the draft," Polian said. "We do what we do, which is to develop good players throughout the draft, and in collegiate free agency, and we'll continue to do that. Nobody will know their names and everybody will give us a 'C' or a 'D' in the draft, and we'll just keep winning."
During the seven-year tenure of former head coach Tony Dungy, Polian said Dungy and his staff excelled at developing young players – both drafted and undrafted – and preparing them to contribute quickly. Jim Caldwell, who ascended from associate head coach to head coach last week, has the same dedication in that area, Polian said.
"He does, and that's the way we do things," Polian said. "That's our M.O. That's how we go about it. We're not going to change. We do what we do. Part of that is drafting good players and part of that is developing those players once you get them here.
"That's how it has to work here because of the resource we have as a small market, and because of the amount of money we commit to the stars on offense."
Polian said that's the sort of working relationship he expects to have with Caldwell, a member of the Colts' staff since 2002.
"First of all, the general manager and the head coach almost always have a close relationship and second of all, we've been friendly since he has been here," Polian said. "I value his opinion and have talked a lot with him, just talking football. We both enjoy talking football, I'm sure it will grow that way.
"He's a fine man. He's all football coach, to borrow a phrase from Marv Levy. He's all football coach. He knows as an assistant what his role is, and he knows as a head coach what his role is. He knows as a professional coach what role he plays in the growth and development of the franchise – on the personnel side, on the evaluation side, as well as the coaching side. It will all work."