INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis offensive line has started five different combinations in eight games this season.
With the only constant this season being change for the unit, a measure of good news is welcomed.
On Wednesday, offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo returned to practice. It was the first on-field work for the club's top draft pick since suffering an ankle injury early in a week four outing at Tampa Bay.
Speaking just briefly prior to today's practice, a smiling Castonzo was excited about the opportunity to re-join his teammates on the practice field, and he thinks his rehabilitation is progressing the way he wishes.
"Absolutely (it is trending in the right direction). (I) sure am (excited)," said Castonzo. "I am very antsy. I am very excited to get out there."
Practice on a Wednesday afternoon does not ensure totally that a performance on Sunday is guaranteed. The chance for a return by Castonzo would be a boost to a unit that has worked hard all year.
"We've had our fair share of injuries up front, that's for sure, (with) guys going down and being hurt," said Saturday on Monday. "It's interesting, none of them (injuries) have been year-long type things, they're weeks at a time. It's tough to know who's coming in, who's not, who's going to be healthy that week. It's just one of those things. Obviously, we need guys to get as healthy as they can as quickly as they can and get back to it."
Castonzo started the first four games for Indianapolis before suffering the injury. Second-round pick Ben Ijalana took Castonzo's place at Tampa Bay when the Boston College product was hurt. Ijalana played into the fourth quarter before suffering a knee injury that ended his season. At that point, Jeff Linkenbach moved from right tackle back to the left side, and he has started there since.
Head Coach Jim Caldwell spoke about Castonzo's return to practice and what a healthy week there could mean for the line.
"I am (optimistic) in terms of he's going to practice. We'll see," said Caldwell. "Oftentimes you have to wait to the end of the week to really get a sense of guys that haven't been practicing and all the sudden they start practicing. Sometimes they may not come along as quickly as we like. Sometimes the next day is an issue because of soreness. You just don't know. We're certainly optimistic."
Caldwell noted a return by Castonzo would move Linkenbach to starting on the right side, among other things.
"There's a number of different things we're kind of balancing around. It looks like (Mike) Pollak may have an opportunity to work his way back," said Caldwell. "We're not real sure, but we'll have a little bit better idea a little later in the week. There are some options if he (Castonzo) does. He'll slide back in there and we have other options at the guard position. It could be (Mike) Tepper. It could be Jamey (Richard). It could be other guys."
Caldwell indicated it is possible that Ryan Diem could return to practice this week. Diem opened the first two games at right guard and started at Cincinnati at right tackle, but he has been slowed this season with an ankle injury. The Colts did release veteran offensive tackle Michael Toudouze on Tuesday. Toudouze served two different tenures recently with Indianapolis due to injuries along the line. He played in relief at Tennessee last Sunday.
Indianapolis signed free agent defensive back Prince Miller on Wednesday. Miller, 5-9, 198 pounds, is in his second NFL season after playing in four games with Detroit in 2010. Miller spent time on the practice squads with Baltimore and New England prior to playing for Detroit.
Caldwell indicated Miller could be viewed for a punt return role.
"He's done it," said Caldwell. "That certainly will be an area we take a look at. He's certainly been around a little bit. He's played a little bit of nickel as well. We'll take a look at him in all those areas. That's (return ability) always an added bonus in that regard. It certainly did not hurt him, that's for sure."
Miller was with Detroit this year until the final cut of training camp. He has had a chance to see the Colts some this season.
"Obviously, (this is) a great team, just going through a tough time," said Miller. "You watch the games and (they're) in a lot of games until the end. We just have to find out how to win it in the end. Football is football. Once you get to a certain point, it's learning the terminology and lingo, the little nuances. It's a good opportunity. Any time you get to play, it's a great opportunity. I will go out there, work hard and try to be an asset to the team."
The club continues to keep Peyton Manning on the active roster, something that raises periodic questions. Caldwell notes Manning is under care of the medical staff as he rehabilitates from neck surgery. There remains no specific time table for him.
"Right now, he's under doctors' care," said Caldwell. "(Owner and CEO) Jim (Irsay) talked about nobody's going to rush him back. The doctors haven't set any guidelines for us, exactly. It's kind of open-ended in terms of his rehabilitation period. Whenever we get closer to him actually getting into position to take the field, I'm certainly not going to discuss a whole lot about that. I'm not going to speculate. He's working and he's improving. We have to take care of business at hand, that's the guys out there on the field – get them in position to get ready to win the games. Whenever we get to the point where the doctors say, 'This (his return) is a reality, this is when it's going to happen,' then we can look at that situation at that point in time. Until then, you're speculating. Obviously, a guy of his stature, he's a pretty good player. You'd like to have his services, but you just don't know if it's going to happen."