INDIANAPOLIS –Tackle Jeff Linkenbach and center A.Q. Shipley both entered the NFL away from the glare of lights and expectations.
Linkenbach joined the Colts in 2010 as an undrafted free agent. Shipley was a seventh-round choice by Pittsburgh in 2009, but only after 225 players had been taken already.
Both played key roles for Indianapolis last week in a 30-27 comeback victory over Green Bay. Linkenbach was a starter at guard, one spot to the left of Shipley, who was opening the first game of his career.
Indianapolis snapped a club-record 89 plays from scrimmage in beating Green Bay, and it was the 88th that pushed the Colts ahead for good.
For Shipley, it was a moment of pride and exhilaration, but on a team level rather than personally.
"We ran the ball. I think it was our highest running game of the season. That's what we need to do," said Shipley. "The third quarter has been a big issue for us this year. We came out and had a great third quarter, and we finished. They took the lead, and we came back and topped it off."
Linkenbach, like Shipley, is a team-first player. He has been a tireless worker during his three seasons, surviving a regime change that brought in a new general manager and head coach.
Linkenbach's versatility has been on display during his time in Indianapolis. He started three games at right guard and one at left tackle as a rookie. In 2011, Linkenbach was one of two Colts linemen to open every game, doing so 12 times at right tackle and four on the left side. This year, he opened at right tackle against Minnesota.
The Cincinnati product is proud of his versatility, knowing it is a ticket to being on the team and reaching the field.
"Absolutely, the more you can do every day (helps), especially when you're not a first-round draft pick," said Linkenbach. "You don't slide into a position. You do what you can do to get on the field and help the team. I do (keep an open mind on where I play). I go into every year looking to make the team and once the season starts, I want to help the team win in every way that I can. Whatever I can do to help the team win is what I'm about. Any time your team wins, it's a source of pride for the team and the unit. Every win, every loss is a 'team win' or 'team loss.' "
General Manager Ryan Grigson was a mid-round draft pick by Cincinnati in the 1990s, and the former lineman notes how Linkenbach has used size and savvy to produce in Indianapolis.
"The thing about Jeff is he's enormous," said Grigson. "He has premium size. Jeff's very intelligent and that shows because we can move him around week-to-week. He can play basically anywhere, and he doesn't miss a beat. He has toughness. He doesn't make big mistakes, and Jeff usually doesn't make the same mistakes twice. That speaks to his football intelligence.
"Jeff knows what his limitations are but a lot of times, he has figured out ways (to compensate). He will continue (to improve). The more you become a veteran, the more wily and crafty you get. It doesn't hurt to be 6-6 and 330 pounds. He's strong. I thought he did a really good job in the run game last week. I really appreciate in this league when I see a lineman move another very big body off the ball and put them on their back. In this league, it's usually a stalemate, and that's about it. When you see guys doing things that, it gets your attention."
Linkenbach agrees that he has grown through the years, pointing toward some grizzled performers who helped him along the way.
"I think I have learned over the years. Any time a rookie comes in you're wide-eyed and bushy-tailed," said Linkenbach. "You start getting into it and start picking up things that veterans do, like from (Jeff) Saturday and (Ryan) Diem in my case. You watch film and start picking up things from that to get a feel for the game, and you incorporate it into your play."
Shipley bounced from the Pittsburgh practice squad to Philadelphia's in 2010. Grigson was the Eagles' personnel chief, and he brought Shipley to Indianapolis this year.
Shipley, a 39-game starter at Penn State who in his final season won the Rimington Trophy and was an All-America choice, subbed in the opener before spending the next two games on the club's practice squad. Grigson spoke with him leading into the Green Bay game when it was obvious Shipley would start for an injured Samson Satele.
"I told him in the weight room the other day, 'I'm confident it's not going to be too big for you because the lights aren't going to be too bright for you. You started four years at Penn State. You've been on the big stage before. You've won the Rimington Award. You're a smart guy. It's your time,' " said Grigson. "I had complete confidence that he was going to play well, and the coaches did, too. We all felt confident in A.Q.
"He's such a fiery competitor. He was ready. I always knew that about him, dating back to Philadelphia. He needed a chance, he got it and he made the most of it. (Laughs) He wasn't real happy about being here on the practice squad before, but that's the way he is. He's a competitor. He thinks he's the best. He believes he is, and that's why he did what he did this past weekend against one of the better teams in the NFL."
Shipley knows well the difficulty of NFL opportunity arriving, and he is grateful Grigson has noticed his efforts for the past couple of seasons.
"I owe him a lot. I was out (of the game) last year, and he gave me another shot this year," said Shipley. "To have that type of respect for me, to be on the practice squad last week and have enough confidence in me to go out, start and get the job done (was big). I knew I had to be ready."
When the gun sounded the Colts had beaten Green Bay, Shipley certainly noted the accomplishment, but his workman-like nature did not allow for any undue personal celebration.
"There's never satisfaction. You just have to keep doing your job. That's what it comes down to," said Shipley. "I try to be (even-keeled, business as usual). You can't get too high or too low in this business. It will come back to bite you for sure.
"I just try to come in and do my job every day, prepare as if I'm the starter. If I am the starter, (I'll) go out and act like it. If I'm not, be ready when called upon."
Linkenbach is a player of few words, too, and the quiet demeanor to an outsider could obscure his passion for the game. Linkenbach knows one of his bosses, Grigson, watches linemen intently. That is fine with him.
"He's going to do the best he can to get the best five out there," said Linkenbach. "Any time you have a former lineman (in that role), he appreciates what we do more than the average guy. He has a passion for the game like we do."