Rookie Offensive Tackle Sees First Action as Starter
Colts rookie free agent Jeff Linkenbach started his first NFL game against Denver at the pivotal left tackle position in place of Charlie Johnson.
Protecting Peyton Manning's blindside can be a daunting prospect considering the amount Indianapolis throws the ball, but Linkenbach took the opportunity in stride.
"I was a little nervous at the beginning, but I settled down and football is just football," Linkenbach said. "I felt myself settle down after those first couple of snaps."
Linkenbach saw plenty of playing time in the preseason and also played for a stretch in the second quarter in the Giants game, so he said it wasn't like being thrown into the fire. Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell believes that helped the first-year player when his number was called to step up.
"I think the nice thing with him is he got a chance during the preseason to play a pretty significant amount, so he got quite a few reps underneath his belt," Caldwell said. "So he had an opportunity to match up with some of the talent within the league early on and that helped him.
"Any snaps that he can get are helpful, and I do think it was certainly great that he had an opportunity to step in and play while Charlie (Johnson) was out during that (Giants) game. It kind of got him acclimated somewhat to playing regular season ball."
And while Manning was not sacked during the game, Linkenbach, like all Colts' players, understands there are always things to improve and fix going forward.
"It was nowhere near perfect, and there is a lot of room for improvement," Linkenbach said. "There were a couple of mental mistakes early on, so I've got a lot of work to do still.
"It is a different type of nerves and anytime you go out there, you're a little nervous until the first snap."
Linkenbach said he was no stranger to the Colts' 'Next Man Up' theory. Similarly to his first season with the Colts, Linkenbach was called upon to start as a redshirt freshman at Cincinnati, and former coach Brian Kelly preached the same mantra to his team.
So it made sense that was one of the reasons Linkenbach chose to sign as a free agent with the Colts after not being drafted.
Caldwell and Linkenbach both stated the tackle position is a tough one to learn and that progress is made slowly, but that improvement will be steady and continue to come with playing time.
"I think it is years, particularly at that position, until they get really, really settled down," Caldwell said. "We faced a couple of guys that were rookies at the tackle position and by the time we saw them that following year, things had changed. They had become more confident, they understood how to use their skill set and they'd improved. I would anticipate that he's going to follow the same graph."
MANNING AMONG LEAGUE'S BEST
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is off to a hot start this season and is the NFL's top-rated passer through the first three weeks.
Manning has completed 87-of-126 passes for 1,013 yards and nine touchdowns with zero interceptions for a league-best 116.9 quarterback rating. He ranks first in touchdown passes, second in completions and attempts and third in yards.
And while the four-time Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player has had successful starts in the past, 2010 has been arguably his best.
The first three games gave Manning his first career three-game streak with three-plus touchdowns and no interceptions in each outing. His 69.0 completion percentage ranks fourth among NFL quarterbacks, but Manning becomes even more precise at the end of a game, where he leads the NFL in fourth-quarter passing, completing 23-of-29 attempts (79.3 percent) for four touchdowns and a near-perfect 157.8 quarterback rating.
Manning has not thrown an interception in his last 141 attempts dating back to 2009, the second-longest streak of his career.
"I think he's doing a great job, but the fact of the matter is that it doesn't always depend upon him," said Caldwell. "A lot of times people think interceptions are the quarterback's problem, but a lot of times they are not. Sometimes the receiver is not running the proper route, sometimes you're getting hit as he's delivering the ball. There are a lot of factors that go into it.
"He's doing a great job, I think that is obvious. But the fact of the matter is it doesn't always strictly depend upon him and his arm. It all ties in together. I think the protection has to be there. The route-runners have to be in the right place and do what he anticipates they are going to do. Those things all come into play."
Manning has led the Colts to seven touchdowns in 10 red zone opportunities to go along with three field goals this season, and the Colts have scored on an NFL-best 24 consecutive red zone attempts dating back to 2009.
The Colts rank third in the NFL in yards per game (412.7) and passing yards per game (331.3), while their 29.7 points per game ranks second in the NFL.