Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell Discusses the Team's Offensive Line
INDIANAPOLIS – The attitude was noticeable immediately.
Watching the Colts' offensive line, an area that has undergone significant off-season change, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said it was immediately easy to see in recent weeks it was a focused, intense group.
Improvement in that area, must be made, Caldwell said.
Changes will be evident. And there will be competition in training camp.
And throughout the Colts' off-season conditioning, and throughout the team's organized team activities in May and June, Caldwell – in his second season as the Colts' head coach – said the group's intentions were clear.
"The fact of the matter is, all of them up front have a bit of a chip on their shoulders," Caldwell said recently in an interview for this story on the Colts' offensive line, part of a position-by-position series scheduled to run on Colts.com this month.
"They want to be better. You can see that, obviously, out here, in our OTAs."
The Colts' offensive line, an area of strength throughout the past 12 seasons under former offensive line coach Howard Mudd, has undergone changes in the off-season.
One of the most noticeable changes? The departure of Mudd.
Mudd, through last season the longest-tenured assistant coach in the NFL, retired following Super Bowl XLIV, ending a 12-year stint with the Colts in which the Indianapolis offensive line perennially was one of the league's best pass-blocking units. The line allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL in six of Mudd's 12 seasons with the Colts.
In his place is former assistant line coach Pete Metzelaars, a former NFL tight end with the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers, and the Colts' assistant line coach since 2004.
"First of all, I do think anytime you have a change of coaches, it will be a little different," Caldwell said. "It was a change (last season) between (former Head Coach) Tony (Dungy) and I. We had a lot of similarities, but we also had some differences. I think it's the same way between Howard and Pete. There are a lot of similarities, but there are some differences. There's only one Howard Mudd."
Caldwell said Metzelaars' adjustment to the position also likely will be helped greatly by not only his time as the assistant line coach, but by spending the 2009 off-season in the role of line coach while Mudd was temily retired.
"The transition is smooth," Caldwell said. "He's smart. He understands the system. He knows what we're doing. He's been working with those guys a number of years. Couple that with the fact that last spring, and all the way up until training camp, he directed that unit, and did a very fine job.
"I don't think the transition will be quite what people are anticipating. I think it will be smooth. I don't think you'll see any drop-off."
What Caldwell said will be seen is a competitive situation on the line, one that will include at least some minor changes in approach.
The Colts early in the off-season released long-time starting left guard Ryan Lilja, and entering the off-season have seven guards on the roster: Kyle DeVan, a 2009 starter at right guard; Mike Pollak, a 2008 starter at right guard; Jaimie Thomas, a 2009 seventh-round draft selection; Jacques McClendon, a 2010 fourth-round draft selection; Jamey Richard, 2008 seventh-round draft selection; 2010 collegiate free-agent Gregg Peat; and Andy Alleman, a third-year veteran who signed this off-season as a veteran free agent.
"I think particularly on our line, I think it's going to be a very good, solid competitive situation," Caldwell said. "It's like my old high school coach would always say, 'Cream will always rise to the top,' so we'll see what happens.
"Certainly, what we're looking for is improvement. That's the key. We want to become a better unit overall, in all phases as a result of our work this spring and also in training camp as well."
They also have seven tackles – 2009 starters Ryan Diem (right) and Charlie Johnson (left), as well as 2007-08 starter Tony Ugoh, rookie free agents Andrew Tyshovnytsky and Jeff Linkenbach, first-year veteran Gerald Cadogan and Adam Terry, a fifth-year veteran who signed as a free agent after five seasons with Baltimore.
Colts President Bill Polian earlier this off-season referred to the offensive line competition as throwing the linemen "into a pot."
"We'll play the five best players," Polian said. "Position doesn't really mean much."
Center Jeff Saturday, entering his 12th season with the Colts, last season made his fourth Pro Bowl, and Caldwell said recently right tackle Ryan Diem and left tackle Charlie Johnson "are doing a fine job, and they continue to improve."
The guard position, Caldwell said, could be competitive, and he said Ugoh –originally a second-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft – "is coming along."
"I really do feel toward the end of the year last year he was making real fine strides," Caldwell said. "I anticipate that's going to continue."
But while observers and analysts have speculated and spoken throughout the off-season about potentially major changes in approach in the line, Caldwell said any changes likely will be a bit more minor in nature.
"You're not going to see a huge change," Caldwell said. "You're going to see some little tweaks and changes, and you may see some additional size at certain positions, but it won't be so much that it's going to change us from a philosophical standpoint."