Johnson, Colts Offensive Line Continues Quest for Improvement in Preseason Opener
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – To Charlie Johnson, it's a rhythm thing.
That, and a chemistry thing, too.
Johnson, now the Colts' starting left offensive tackle, said for the members of the offensive line, those elements as much as anything likely will be what the 2009 preseason – and particularly the preseason opener this week – will be about.
The starters likely won't play the whole game. And at least one starter won't play.
But the group for the most part is together again.
And Johnson that makes the game imant.
"Actually, it has been a good while since we had everybody together," Johnson said as the Colts (12-4 last season, second in AFC South) prepared to play the Minnesota Vikings (10-6, NFC North Champions) in the 2009 preseason opener for both teams at Lucas Oil Stadium Friday at 7:30 p.m.
"It feels good. Hopefully, now we can get guys set in place and start playing together, That's the biggest thing, is trying to get the chemistry back and get back to where we were a couple of years ago."
Johnson, who was named the starter at left tackle by Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell this past Monday, is part of an offensive line that spent the offseason focused on improving what Senior Offensive Line Coach Howard Mudd last week called a "mediocre" performance last season.
With Johnson, the starting line now looks like this:
• Left tackle: Johnson, a fourth-year veteran from Oklahoma State. He started 12 games at guard last season and four at tackle after starting 10 games at right and left tackle in 2007.
• Left guard: Ryan Lilja, a sixth-year veteran from Kansas State. He missed all of last season with a knee injury after starting from 2004-2007.
• Center: Jeff Saturday, a three-time Pro Bowl selection from North Carolina who re-signed with the team in the offseason. He is entering his 10th season as the team's starting center.
• Right guard: Mike Pollak, a second-year veteran from Arizona State who started 13 games last season.
• Right tackle: Ryan Diem, a nine-year veteran from Northern Illinois who was the lone Colts offensive lineman to start 16 games at one position last season.
Diem (back) isn't expected to play on Friday, but with Lilja back after a season the Colts are closer to full strength on the line than they have been since 2007, when they rushed for 106.6 yards a game and finished 18th in the NFL in rushing.
The Colts since 1999 had finished 19th or better in rushing in eight of nine seasons, but last season – with the line battling injuries much of the season – they finished 31st and failed to have a 1,000-yard rusher for just the second time since 1996.
"It was terrible," Saturday said this week.
Saturday said such a performance puts too much pressure on Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who won a third Associated Press Most Valuable Player Award in six seasons last season.
"We didn't do a good job," Saturday said. "No matter how good the quarterback is, when your running game isn't effective, you're not going to win in the playoffs."
The objective for the line during the offseason has been to ensure they're not repeating those words next offseason, and no matter how much the first team plays, Pollak said the first step toward that objective is Friday night.
"It's always a good time to get back on," Pollak said. "We've been out hitting with each other for a while. It's good to line up against somebody else. I think it starts in the preseason. We've been out here working really hard and hopefully, we're going to see it pay off in the next coming weeks."
Said Johnson, "You just hope to get a rhythm. With the first team, you just hope to get a rhythm and get going in the game flow. For us, it's really getting our no-huddle going, getting up and as a line getting to running plays. You just try to get in the flow of the game.
"There are a lot of different situations you work on in practice, but you can't get a game feel for."