Whatever the Lineup, Colts Expect High Level of Play from Offensive Line
INDIANAPOLIS – Charlie Johnson said the approach remains the same.
Johnson, the Colts' fifth-year offensive left tackle, said while it is true the Colts' offensive line has faced adversity this preseason – and while the adversities have continued this week – it's just as true that the unit previously has faced such situations. Many times.
Still, Johnson and Colts Head Coach Caldwell each said this week the Colts will play through the challenges.
And they will expect to play well.
"No matter who's playing, we're going to expect a high level of play," Johnson said as the Colts (14-2 in 2009) prepared to play the Houston Texans (9-7) in an AFC South match-up at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, in the 2010 regular-season opener.
"We're going to expect whoever it is to play winning football. That's the way it has been since I've been here, and that's the way it's going to be probably long after I'm gone."
Johnson, who started last season at left tackle and who enters the 2010 season starting at the same position, missed all four preseason games with a foot injury. Jeff Saturday, the Colts' four-time Pro Bowl center, missed all four preseason games with a knee injury.
Saturday practiced Wednesday, and Johnson returned on a limited basis.
"They're feeling pretty good about where they are," Caldwell said. "I'm not real certain in our business that you're ever comfortable with anything in any area at any point in time. If you do get comfortable, you're looking to have some problems. I think that's kind of the nature of the beast. You're always on edge and always trying to make certain you cover all of your bases. That's part of the position."
Entering the season, the Colts' starting offensive line on the official depth chart is Ryan Diem at right tackle, Kyle DeVan at right guard, Saturday at center, third-year veteran Jamey Richard at left guard and Johnson at left tackle.
While the team waived/injured reserve lineman Tony Ugoh Wednesday, 2008 starting guard Mike Pollak remains on the roster, as does do guards Jaimie Thomas and Jacques McClendon and offensive tackle Jeff Linkenbach. The team also recently acquired offensive tackle Joe Reitz, who played at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Indianapolis, off waivers from Miami.
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said he had confidence in the line whatever the situation.
"Those guys are going to play hard," Manning said. "We have had some injuries that have kept some guys from playing, but whoever is out there is going to play hard. That room has always had a lot of pride – great veteran leadership in Jeff Saturday, Ryan Diem and Charlie. I expect those guys will be ready to fight on Sunday."
"We'd certainly like to have all of our starters out there, but if he (Johnson) were to be unable to play, I still feel good about the plan."
The Colts' offensive line long has taken the approach that, when necessary, backups must play at the same level as starters. Johnson said that's the approach he took as an individual his first three seasons, when he often filled in for Ugoh and Diem at tackle, a situation that occurred in the Super Bowl following his rookie season, 2006. With Diem out that night in Miami Gardens, Johnson played well enough that Manning later said it was several series before he realized a change had been made.
The Colts also played early in the 2008 season with Richard – then a rookie – starting at center and then-rookie Steve Justice at guard.
"It's always a challenge, I think – anytime you have a couple of setbacks here and there," Caldwell said. "We never look at that as an excuse. What they pay us to do is to win games. No one wants to here any excuses about who was there or who wasn't there. What counts is the guys who are out there on that field come game day. They have to perform at the level we expect them to perform.
"I very rarely look at things that way in life, period. We have to make the best of our situation whatever it dictates and move forward."
Johnson said his approach this week has been to work and prepare as if he were playing.
At the same time, Johnson said it's his responsibility this week to help Linkenbach, a rookie free-agent from Cincinnati.
"Especially with a young guy like Jeff, you can help them out," Johnson said. "You can alert them and you can be there for him if he has a question.'"
Linkenbach said the Colts' approach was clear immediately.
"It doesn't matter if you're drafted or undrafted," he said. "It's just 11 guys on each side of the ball trying to win a football game."
Johnson said that culture is so ingrained so quickly that it has helped the Colts deal with uncertain situations at several positions, and said the way he figures it, that will be the case this week and for the foreseeable future as it relates to the entire roster.
"When you get that final roster and you have the young guys on the team who are expected to contribute, they already know that at some point, they're going to have to play," Johnson said. "They prepare and they get used to that routine of preparing like you're a starter because you don't know when you're going to play, and on top of that, we also expect them to play well.
"You just have to prepare like you're going to play. If you do that long enough, and if you do it well enough, then you should be able to get more playing time."