INDIANAPOLIS – On Monday night at Tampa Bay, if Jeff Saturday had a spare moment he might have thought of Rudyard Kipling.
No, Kipling was not likely to join the Colts' huddle, but Saturday had to keep his head when all about him…..
Saturday was starting his 185th career game, and it would be a game unlike many others. He was joined by two young players to his left (Anthony Castonzo and Joe Reitz) who had a combined eight NFL appearances. He had veteran Mike Pollak to his immediate right and Jeff Linkenbach one slot beyond that. It was only temporary, however.
Castonzo suffered a first-quarter ankle injury and was replaced by rookie Ben Ijalana. Ijalana subbed for Castonzo for nearly three quarters before suffering a knee injury that resulted in him being placed on injured reserve this week. Linkenbach moved to the left side in Ijalana's absence and free agent Mike Tepper finished the game at right tackle after signing from the practice squad earlier in the day. Saturday forged on. He was playing with quarterback Curtis Painter, who was making his first career start in his fourth league game. Afterwards, he was asked about the shifting line and its injuries.
"We have had a couple of setbacks with injuries, which is disappointing," said Saturday. "Those guys were playing good, and we just have to get healthy. (Anthony) Castonzo is going to take some time to get healthy. (Ryan) Diem, we have to get him back as soon as possible and Ben (Ijalana) is done for the season. Those are starters who have gone down. We have to replace them and try to get a good line put together."
This week, the Colts re-signed veteran tackle Michael Toudouze. Toudouze has started one of seven games for the club after being a 2006 draft pick. The team also added free agent tackle Quinn Ojinnaka. Head Coach Jim Caldwell said Linkenbach will open at left tackle on Sunday. The team hopes to re-gain the services of right guard Ryan Diem. Diem opened the first two games before missing the last two with an ankle injury.
Saturday has made the line calls expertly for many seasons. The changes this year have been dramatic, and he knows quite well the challenges of coordinating a new unit.
"(The hardest thing is) just getting the communication," said Saturday. "It's difficult to do, especially in Tampa. Those fans were going and it was pretty loud. It's tough, it's tough to pass down the calls, make sure everybody is on the page. This week we will do a lot of that and make sure we can get those calls communicated."
Saturday is a consummate pro who is overwhelmingly positive, and his leadership ability is on full display.
"We've made improvements," said Saturday about the line. "I think we're getting better, drive-blocking and doing those kinds of things. We're getting better yardage in the run game. We're picking up on the pass protection and cutting down each week on the quarterback hits. Obviously, when everybody goes down (with injuries), you're trying to patch the holes in the dam. We have to find a way to get it fixed up and, 'Let's go play.' "
With the right tackle position unsettled at the moment, Saturday knows the linemen, who all are schooled in playing multiple positions, will rise for the opportunity.
"I have no idea (who will open there)," said Saturday. "I don't know what they (coaches) will end up doing. We'll go through the week and everybody will prepare just like everybody's going to start and we'll see who comes out at the end playing well. It's a big game for us. Obviously being 0-4, you have to find a way to get a win. We have to put the best five guys out there and make them move toward that."
Saturday has seen teammates come and go. He now is seeing Toudouze in another stint with the club. Toudouze has performed in the clutch before with the team. He was watching Monday's game at home when injuries hit, and Toudouze figured, correctly, that he might return. Saturday is happy to see him.
"This is about his sixth comeback," said Saturday. "I was joking, I think he has the same pension as I do when we're finally done, he's played so many years in coming back. I love him. You know what you're going to get from him. He knows the offense, knows our system. It's good to have him back."
Saturday knows the value of having teammates who are experienced in the club's diversified offense. It is an offense that demands precision, and Saturday knows it needs to operate the best that it can.
"I don't think we're going to do much more (simplifying the offense). I think it's about as simply as we can get it right now," said Saturday. "There's not a ton of complicated plays going out there. We're going to play within ourselves and do the best we can do to get first downs. We are where we are. We can't reduce the offense much more. We have to give our play-makers opportunities to make plays. That means guys have to know what they're doing, get in the playbook and know what we can do."
Saturday and the offense will be matching wits with Kansas City defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel on Sunday. Crennel has faced the club many times in the past, including last season, and Saturday will expect the unexpected.
"We've played against him a lot. He knows our offense," said Saturday. "He knows what we're trying to get done. He's one of the smarter defensive coordinators in our game, so he's going to put together a good game plan. He's going to bring some blitzes where he knows they're going to be effective. He's going to give you a bunch of different looks. We know we have to be prepared for anything, 3-4, 4-3, 3-3-nickel. You name it, he can put it out there."
Saturday will call on his resolve as the club tries to get its first victory. Margins of defeat have been small, and he feels the team must improve to get over the hump.
"We're right there, but the reality is we have to find a way to win," said Saturday. "You're in the fourth quarter and you have a chance to win or you have leads, we have to find a way to hold them (a lead). We have to find a way to extend them (leads) and get those wins. Getting close doesn't help much. You know you have a good enough team to compete, but you have to have a good enough team to win.
"The only way to get back to winning is to work hard. You can't fold up, you can't back down. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. Nobody cares who doesn't play for your team. The guys who go out on the field understand that we have to find a way to win. The message I tell the guys is, 'Show up ready to work and play hard. Give yourself a chance to win the fourth quarter.' "