READY TO RUN

The Colts running game ranked 31st in the NFL last season, and the offense ranked outside the Top 10 for the first time since 1998. Colts center Jeff Saturday was among those who said recently the offensive line and running game will improve next season.

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Running Game, Offensive Line Will Improve, Colts Center Jeff Saturday Says

INDIANAPOLIS – As Jeff Saturday sees it, an offense based on one person can't work.

That's true even if the person is Peyton Manning.

Saturday, the Colts' three-time Pro Bowl center, recently said that's why he has been saying throughout the offseason that the Colts' running game – an area that last season ranked next-to-last in the NFL – must improve next season.

Because the NFL is about balance. And in 2008, the Colts offense at times very much was not.

"You can fall in love watching (Manning) throw it around and think you can win the world that way," Saturday said during the Colts' recent three-day mandatory 2009 mini-camp at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

"But the bottom line is we've got to run the football if we're going to win. It's going to be better."

The Colts' rushing offense and offensive line has been a focus this offseason among not only observers and analysts, but players and coaches. After ranking no worse than 19th in the NFL in rushing in eight of nine seasons, the Colts finished this past season 31st of 32 teams, rushing for an average of 79.6 yards per game.

Saturday has said the members of the line were embarrassed by the performance, with Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell saying improvement is needed.

"I think it's huge," Caldwell said recently. "It has to be solidified. It has to improve in terms of the running game. I think that's imperative. Obviously, when you look at us and look at that area, that's one where we were lacking. It's not a situation where we're going to be able to go out and throw the ball every down. You can't do that in this league.

"You're not going to be able to survive without controlling the line of scrimmage and that's what the run game does. So, yes, that's imant, but we have some guys who are hopefully getting a little healthier."

Saturday, who made the Pro Bowl from 2005-07, missed that game last season after missing four games because of two separate injuries, and offensive guard Ryan Lilja – a starter from 2004-07 and one of the line's best run blockers – missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Caldwell said while that meant a difficult 2008 it could be a positive for 2009, with two players who were rookies at the time – guard Mike Pollak and guard/center Jamey Richard – and fourth-year veteran Charlie Johnson having played extensive roles.

"The other part of it that can't be discounted is we did have some younger players playing in that line last year," Caldwell said. "Oftentimes, if you go through hardships all of a sudden the next year you say, 'We were much better because of that.' We have more depth. We've developed more depth. No one's timid about putting a young guy in the game who has had an immense amount of experience.

"It's two-fold. You might suffer a bit when you're going through it, but in the long run, you come out. You get Lilja back – now all of a sudden you have some experience and some depth and we think we can develop into a real formidable front."

The Colts' offense in recent seasons has been at its best when the running game is effective enough to enhance the team's play-action attack. Last season, with the running game's ranking its lowest in franchise history, the overall offensive rank was 15th, the first time since 1998 the team has been out of the Top 10.

Manning said the balance provided by a solid running game is critical to the overall effectiveness of the offense.

"There are different things you can analyze, but I think that's what our offense is based upon, being a balanced team," Manning said. "We feel we're at our best when we can run the ball, drop back and pass and run our play-action all on first down and second down where the defense doesn't know quite what to expect. If you're not doing well in one category it does make you one-dimensional. That's what we're working on. We're analyzing some things, maybe tweaking some things and hopefully, we can be better in all those phases, the running game, the passing game, the drop-back and the play-action."

Lilja agreed, and agreed with Saturday that there is an urgency and desire in the offensive line to improve the running game – and the balance of the offense – next season.

"Absolutely, especially the older guys who have had some success running and passing the ball," Lilja said. "Obviously, we didn't do a very good job of that last year. Some guys are walking around with a chip on their shoulder. We're making some slight adjustments with some of the run offense. We want to get that figured out and figured out quick.

"We want to get it done by training camp. I think most of these guys are excited about what we're doing and excited to run the ball better."

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