Colts OG Ryan Lilja Feeling Good About Offseason, Future
INDIANAPOLIS – Right now, Ryan Lilja's said he's not concerned about the calendar.
So, it's only June. And it's still three months from training camp.
Lilja, an offensive guard entering his sixth NFL season, said this past weekend that he's well aware of those things, and said that being ready for training camp is very much a goal.
But for now, Lilja feels good.
And after what he been through the last year and a half, that's a good feeling.
"I'm feeling better," Lilja said this past Sunday, the final day of the team's recent three-day mandatory mini-camp at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"It's been a long year and I had a lot of ups and downs, but we're starting to improve, and it couldn't come at a better time. I haven't felt this good in a year-and-a-half, so I'm excited."
Lilja, a starting guard from 2004-07, missed last season with a knee injury, spending the season almost exclusively on the team's Physically Unable to Perform list. Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said during the mini-camp the team is optimistic about Lilja's progress this offseason.
"You see him out on the field running around and he has a big smile on his face," Caldwell said. "He really feels good about his progress and in turn, we do as well. I saw him and I commented to him, 'Boy, it's good to see you out there moving around.'
"He reciprocated with as big a smile as I had, so we anticipate he'll continue to improve, hopefully."
Caldwell said that's potentially very good news for the Colts' offense.
The Colts' rushing offense has been a focus this offseason among coaches and players. 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.
Colts center Jeff Saturday has said the members of the line were embarrassed by the performance, and Caldwell has said has said it must improve next season.
Lilja's presence, Caldwell said, could be imant toward that end.
"He's a very experienced guy," Caldwell said. "Not only that, he has a great attitude in terms of his leadership and his understanding of our scheme. He is a very, very bright individual who does a great job of executing his techniques on the interior. Anytime you lose some experience like that it certainly does have an effect on you.
"We had some young guys that did step in and play quite well, but Lilja gives you a little bit more experience."
Such words – with a focus not on his knee, but on what he can do on the field – are words Lilja said he has been waiting to hear for a long time, a period during which he said he gained perspective on life and football.
"It's been tough," Lilja said. "You hear guys talk about injuries in the game, and it's the toughest part about this business. I saw it first-hand. It's not fun to sit out and watch your teammates practice or play in games. I haven't played in the new stadium yet. It's very frustrating. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.
"I've come to grips with what can happen after football. I've done a lot of soul searching. You don't take it for granted anymore, and maybe I did before. I learned my lesson. I'm having a blast out there just running around practicing, getting in the huddle and hitting guys and moving around. It's 10 times better than sitting in an ice tub or working with the therapist on your knee all day."
Lilja said the struggles of the offensive line last season made sitting out all the more difficult.
"It's tough even if you're winning because you want to be a part of that," Lilja said. "When you're losing and you know you can help out-and we weren't running the ball very well, obviously, last year-it's just not fun to know that you're not out there doing your job and earning your paycheck.
"Hopefully, that was the end of it for me and I can start getting back on the field and working again."
Lilja said while he hopes he can help, he said his return is far from the only important factor in the line's play.
"I don't know if it has anything to do with me as much as the continuity and being out there with the guys," Lilja said. "You have the communication, and you saw a lot of guys get shuffled in and out last year and that's tough. Young guys coming in and out and a lot of injuries, that's tough. Unless you play the position you don't really understand how much continuity has to do with the success of the unit and the offense.
"I'm looking forward to seeing if I can make a difference."
Lilja, while optimistic, said he's not yet 100 percent and that he's making no guarantees about the future. What's important now, he said, is he's feeling better.
"I've been getting better for the last three months, and that's all I can ask for," Lilja said. "I don't see a reason why I'm going to stop getting better in the next six weeks. It's holding up really well. Every time we test it out it responds very well. I've been doing well lately.
"My mindset is come August I'm going to be ready to work like every other guy in the locker room. I don't want to be a special case. I've had that going on for way too long, and I hate it. Nobody wants that. So, I don't want there to be any issues with me.
"Obviously, they are going to monitor how many practices and how many reps I get, but we'll let those wizards in the training room figure that out. I just want to get out there and work and do it like a normal offensive guard should."