INDIANAPOLIS – Heading into the 2011 season, the offensive line for the Indianapolis Colts faced change.
The Colts used their first two draft picks on players up front, selecting tackles Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana. Veteran Ryan Diem moved from right tackle to guard.
After the first three games of the regular season, the Colts had seemed to have found their nucleus with Castonzo, left guard Joe Reitz, center Jeff Saturday, right guard Mike Pollak (filling in for an injured Diem) and right tackle Jeff Linkenbach filling out the unit.
The line was put to the test Monday night with Castonzo exiting the Tampa Bay game early with an ankle injury. His departure allowed Ijalana to protect quarterback Curtis Painter's blind side.
Seeing his first extensive NFL action, Ijalana suffered a season-ending knee injury later in the game, forcing the Colts to throw another new face in the mix.
Signed from the practice squad earlier in the day, Mike Tepper saw his first career NFL action as he moved to right tackle. Linkenbach was switched to left tackle after Ijalana was injured.
Injuries are a part of the NFL and Head Coach Jim Caldwell said it is a collective effort to overcome those by getting the club's backups ready to go.
It is a call of duty that comes without warning.
"Any time we send someone in the game, our expectations are that they perform and perform well," Caldwell said. "Sometimes they might not have the number of reps that you like, but that's up to us as coaches to be able to adjust and make certain that we're doing things that they're comfortable with. We certainly don't want to get them in there and get them completely out of the element without any help or assistance."
The Colts head into the regular season's fifth week with questions about how the line will be constructed come Sunday against Kansas City.
"Whoever is out there we've got to make it work, and it's our job that we make sure we go out and execute well in practice," Reitz said. "Practice is even more important now with new guys and new faces in. We need to make sure we go out and have a good week of practice this week so we're ready for Sunday."
A former offensive tackle, Reitz has found his niche at left guard for the Colts. He has started all four games in 2011. Reitz is in his second season with the Colts and has seen this team overcome injuries before.
"We definitely had some adversity with losing and starting off 0-4 and guys going down," Reitz said. "The one thing this team has always done is respond to adversity, and that's what we are going to do. It's a tough group of men, a resilient group of men and we can't wait to go out and take the field Sunday and, hopefully, get this bad taste out of our mouth."
The one constant along the offensive line has been center Jeff Saturday. The 13-year veteran has been in the middle of the unit for his entire Colts career, and he is pleased with the progress the young line is making.
"We definitely have made improvements," Saturday said. "We're getting better. Drive blocking doing those kinds of things, getting better yardage in the run game. We're picking up on the pass protection a little bit. We were cutting down each week on the quarterback hits."
The Colts will welcome the Kansas City Chiefs to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday in what will be their final home for almost a month. One-possession margins on the scoreboard have been the fate for the Colts the last three weeks. The most experienced man on the line knows in order for the Colts to get over the hump his unit must win the battle of the trenches.
"It's a big game for us," said Saturday. "Obviously, being 0-4 you have to find a way to get a win. We need to put the best five guys out there and make a move toward that."