Offensive Line Progressing in Camp, Mudd Says
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Another year, another challenge.
But as far as Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd sees it, this year's challenge is manageable, and the benefits could be big.
Mudd, entering his 11th season as the Colts' offensive line coach, discussed this week several of the tasks facing the line during 2008 Training Camp.
• Find a starting right guard.
• Work three rookie draft selections into the line rotation.
• Find a combination of players who will make up the overall rotation.
So far, Mudd said, so good.
"As a whole, I probably feel better (than he did entering last season)," Mudd said this week during camp, which continued Thursday with a pair of practices at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
"We'll be able to make a good group out of what we have and have some suppeople."
Mudd said that's a slightly different scenario than the line faced in training camp a year ago when three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tarik Glenn retired shortly before training camp.
The Colts entered training camp last season with then-rookie Tony Ugoh in the starting lineup and competing with second-year veteran Charlie Johnson for the position. Ugoh held the job, started 11 games and has solidified his position as the team's starter at tackle.
"That was a big project," Mudd said Wednesday. "The rest of it was in place. Now, the support cast I didn't feel as good about last year as I do this year. It's a different thing.
"Last year, I was zeroed in on one thing (left tackle) and then I was worried about support (depth along the line). I only had one guy (as a reserve) I was real sure of and I was real unsure about some others. This year, I feel real good about where Tony Ugoh is. He's become a veteran. Not to say he doesn't have things he needs to improve, because he does.
"The other parts are more uncertain, because (left guard Ryan) Lilja's hurt and I have to find a right guard, but I'm probably in a little better shape (than a year ago)."
Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Lilja – a starter since 2004 who re-signed with the Colts this past off-season – could leave the Physically Unable to Perform list in mid-August.
Mudd said some of the early focus of camp has been on the three offensive linemen Indianapolis selected in this past April's NFL Draft – second-round guard Mike Pollak, sixth-round guard Steve Justice and seventh-round guard Jamey Richard.
"I like them," Mudd said. "I like all three of them. They're doing well. They're making progress and they seem less lost, which is good. That means they're learning what to do and how to do it and when to do it for the most part. They still mess things up, but one thing I like about them is they're not hanging on the edge.
"When they don't do something right, they're not hanging right there and getting down and staying down. That impedes progress. They seem to be able to get rid of it and get on with life.
"They've made a lot of progress that way."
Pollak is currently competing with Johnson at right guard, while Justice, veteran Dan Federkeil – who Mudd said has improved dramatically – and Richard are among those competing at various positions on the line. Mudd said that depth is necessary considering the Colts' approach along the line.
Under Mudd, the Colts typically use a best-lineup philosophy on the line, meaning instead of having backups at each position, Mudd moves players around the lineup, sometimes moving a starting guard to tackle rather than having a backup guard step in for an injured player.
"That's how we do it," Mudd said. "We're going to have injuries. If we don't, it's fabulous, but if we have injuries and somebody's missing, this gives us more choice to solve the problem.
"We needed to get players to help us fill in. The system of drafting and picking the guys we want and those kinds of things is working as well. That's the theory of it. Sometimes it doesn't always work. And to see it working, there's a lot of comfort in that."
The three drafted rookies, Mudd said, have adapted well during the first week of camp and they have shown development in recent months.
"It's one thing to practice in gym trunks," Mudd said. "That's pretend football. Then when you put pads on and it's noisier and there's less time between plays and we've added more things, our instillation curve is much faster. Did they retain what they learned? Not only did they do that, they retained their techniques and they've gotten better at those.
"Stuff that's foreign to them fundamentally in May, if we take a little break and all of a sudden the light starts going on in different places and they can apply it, then you feel better about it. And that's what's happened. For the new guys who have come in, it's making sense."