Colts Offensive Tackle Ryan Diem Still Motivated Entering 10th NFL Season
INDIANAPOLIS – Looking back, Ryan Diem can see the improbability.
Diem, an offensive tackle in his 10th season with the Colts, said now that he considers his story with the eye and experience of a veteran, he can see how it would seem improbable that he would have spent the last season in the circumstances he did:
As a key member of one of the NFL's best lines.
And as a long-time starter in the NFL.
Diem, after all, not only played at Northern Illinois, he was a fourth-round selection by the Colts in the 2001 NFL Draft.
That's not a guaranteed formula for NFL success.
But it was Diem's formula, one that worked well enough to make him one of the most reliable members of one of the NFL's top offensive lines for the past decade.
"If you looked at the odds of a fourth-round pick from Northern Illinois playing 10 years, it would be a long shot," Diem said during the Colts' organized team activities, which ended recently at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"Had I known those odds going on, it might have been a different story."
Instead, Diem's story has been a remarkably successful one.
The No. 118 overall selection in the 2001 NFL Draft, Diem moved into a starting late in his rookie season, and early on, personified the team's philosophy of having versatile linemen who can play effectively at more than one position. He started at guard through 2002, then moved to his position of right tackle in 2003.
He has been a starter since, anchoring the right side of some of the NFL's best lines during that span and in 2008, he started every game for the first time since 2004.
This past season, he started every game except the regular-season finale against Buffalo, a game the Colts entered having clinched home-field advantage throughout a post-season that ended with a loss in the team's second Super Bowl appearance in four seasons.
Diem in nine seasons has played in the playoffs eight times, appearing in three AFC Championship Games and two Super Bowls. As a member of six AFC South Championship teams, he said after making the NFL's biggest game last season, this year's objective is obvious.
"We came up a little bit short," Diem said. "I try to get past last year and focus on this year, but still use it as motivation. To get to that point and not finish the job is all the more motivating if you ask me.
"The only thing left to do is to do it again and to win."
Diem, along with 2001 first-round selection/wide receiver Reggie Wayne, is the Colts' fourth-longest tenured player behind quarterback Peyton Manning, center Jeff Saturday and long snapper Justin Snow. Since moving into the starting lineup in 2002, he has started 13 or more games in all but one season.
The ability to be reliable, he said, and to continue improving and maintaining focus, has been key to his longevity.
"Just by showing up, getting around this group of guys and seeing how they work and operate, you can learn how to make this instead of a short career into a long career," Diem said. "You learn how to keep your body in shape, and that's a big part of it.
"But playing at a high level and working hard – just showing up to work every day."
For the first time in his career, when Diem shows up this season he won't be showing up to work for long-time Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd. A veteran of 35 NFL coaching seasons, the last 12 of which were with the Colts, Mudd retired following Super Bowl XLIV.
He was succeeded by Pete Metzelaars, the Colts' assistant offensive line coach since 2004.
"Of course, we're going to miss Howard and the experience he brings to the table," Diem said. "That's irreplaceable, that 35 years coaching. But Pete's been along for the ride for the past six years with us – in that room. He knows us. He knows the way we like to be coached. He knows how to coach us.
"He already had a feel for all of us, so that helps. He wasn't starting from scratch. We're not just meeting the guy for the first time."
What Diem said he and the rest of the line are focused most upon this season is improving the run offense. The Colts made strides in that area last season, with players and coaches last season saying they ran more effectively than the season before. They finished 32nd in rushing last season and 31st in 2008, but Saturday said earlier this off-season the Colts concentrate more on yards per carry than yards per game. Saturday said that area also most improve from 3.53 yards per carry last season, and Diem agreed.
"One thing we want to improve on is just getting the average up per carry," Diem said.
And Diem said to make no mistake:
Whatever his beginnings, whatever he had to overcome to get where he is, however improbable his story, even after a decade, helping the Colts improve that area is very much what he wants to be doing come August.
"There's no other thing I'd rather be doing than playing football," Diem said. "It's a blessing that I'm still doing that, playing a football game for a living.
"There's nothing else I'd rather be doing."