Johnson Ready to Handle Starting Role at Left Offensive Tackle
INDIANAPOLIS – His position is new, but in a very real sense, his approach is not.
Charlie Johnson, after all, is hardly making his first NFL start this weekend, and he is not even making his first start at one of the key positions on the offensive line.
Johnson, who moved into the starting left tackle role this offseason and has played there throughout the preseason, has played there at various times in three previous seasons with the Colts. So, yes, starting the regular-season opener there is significant, but not enough where he is going to change too, too much.
"Right now, I guess I'm the left tackle," Johnson said Thursday as the Colts (12-4 last season, 2nd AFC South) prepared to play host to the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11, 4th AFC South) at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"I'm not going to make any guarantees, because things can change, and as of now, that's where I've been working. As far as I see it, that's the way it's going to be.
"That's a fairly significant change from past seasons."
Not that Johnson did not play as much as a lot of starters in past seasons. It is just that he often was not called one officially on the depth chart.
Johnson, a sixth-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft from Oklahoma State, started one game at right tackle as a rookie in 2006, then played extensively in the Colts' victory over Chicago in Super Bowl XLI. He started 10 games the following season, five for left tackle Tony Ugoh and five for right tackle Ryan Diem.
Last year, Johnson was one of two Colts offensive linemen to start 16 games, starting 12 games at guard with Ryan Lilja out for the season with a knee injury and four at left tackle.
But this offseason, the Colts moved Johnson into the starting left tackle position, a position Head Coach Jim Caldwell said he earned by being "very steady."
"Charlie handled his responsibilities extremely well," Caldwell said. "He's a guy that is very athletic. He certainly understands our offense extremely well, having been in it a few years now. He is very versatile. He was able to nail down that position in terms of the run and pass game and did it quite effectively. We've had a lot of faith in him, and he has shown he can do it on a consistent basis.
"He's done so at a number of different positions. I've felt quite comfortable with him for quite some time. I'm not certain if there was any one mark where I could indicate when that turning point was.
"We always felt good about him."
Johnson said an area of focus during the preseason has been improving the running game, an area in which the Colts finished 31st in the NFL last season.
"We're getting better," Johnson said. "It's a work in progress. We're doing some things a little differently. We're working on it every day and we're going to keep working at it until we get it right."
It should be helped, Johnson said, by not only Lilja's return, but by the cohesion developed by having not only Lilja back for much of training camp, but having right tackle Ryan Diem, right guard Mike Pollak and center Jeff Saturday working most of camp, too.
"It's been a while since we've had a group of five together," Johnson said. "Luckily in this camp, we've had our group of five going. We're starting to work well together. I feel good."
Johnson said there has been one change for him during the preseason – that for the first time, he has not focused as much on various positions. Rather, he has been able to focus on left tackle, and the intricacies involved.
"When I got word I was going to be playing left tackle, that's where I could focus all my attention," Johnson said. "It's good, because I can finally work at one spot and really focus on the fine details of one spot. Each position is a little different, from playing inside to playing outside, but getting started and all the stuff we do as far as our offense is similar. There's stuff you can work on. . . .
"It was nice knowing I was going to play one spot. That's something you can get ready for. In years past, I played a lot of right side and left side. It felt good for once knowing, 'OK, I have one spot. That's where I can work and I can work and try to get good at one spot.'"
And as far as just how long he will focus on one position, he said, "That's still left to be seen.
"There have been times in the past where I've felt like I've had a spot and because of this or that, I've had to go somewhere else," he said. "I guess for now, you could say that (he has found a home at left tackle), but for now, I'm just taking it day by day.
"I'm not trying to get too high or too low. I'm just trying to go play football."
THURSDAY INJURY RE
The Colts also released Thursday's injury report, with defensive tackle Fili Moala (knee), tight end Tom Santi (ankle) and defensive backs Tim Jennings (Not Injury Related-Rested), Bob Sanders (knee) and Jamie Silva (abdomen) listed as not participating in practice.