Offensive Line Makes Progress Through First Six Weeks of the Season
INDIANAPOLIS – Charlie Johnson figures the reason is simple.
And while the early weeks of the season were far from easy for the Colts' offensive line, and while the unit still has work to do, Johnson – the Colts' starting left tackle – said the group's marked improvement throughout the season can be traced to a logical point.
The reason is continuity.
At the beginning of the season, the Colts' offensive line didn't have it. Not enough, anyway.
Johnson, in his second season as the full-time starter on the left side of the line, said this week while the group still is working toward its full potential, having played together more and more in recent weeks unquestionably has meant a gradual improvement.
"I think it was just getting the guys who were going to play on the practice field and working together," Johnson said this week during the Colts' 2010 bye week, a week that comes before a key AFC South game against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium November 1.
"You can't have a group of five guys come together and they not work together."
In essence, that's what right tackle Ryan Diem and Johnson said the Colts were trying do at the start of the season.
Since a regular-season opener when the group struggled at times to protect quarterback Peyton Manning, the group has improved, and while there is still progress to be made, the unit has turned in solid run-blocking performances multiple times in the last few weeks.
That was true this past Sunday, too.
The Colts, after finishing ranked 31st and 32nd in rushing the past two seasons, talked often this past off-season about improving in that area. In Week 2, they rushed for 160 yards against the New York Giants, and in a 27-24 victory over Washington this past Sunday, the Colts' offensive line largely controlled the line of scrimmage, rushing for a season-high 170 yards and a touchdown.
Colts running back Joseph Addai rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
And while Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said the unit still is searching for the consistency the entire team is seeking, he said progress is being made.
"I was certainly pleased with the way in which we played last week," Caldwell said. "I think we did a nice job controlling the line of scrimmage and ran for a decent amount of yards. I like the progression that we are making there, but just like anything else we have to get to the point where we are consistent.
"One week we run it really well versus the Giants and a couple of weeks later we finally run it really well again. I think we just have to get more consistent. That's the key."
Johnson said while the preseason lineup issues hurt in one sense, they helped in another.
"When you have guys who miss time, it throws the timing off," Johnson said. "You're playing next to a guy who you might not be playing next to in the regular season. At the same time, it gives those guys a chance to work with the first group, because they're going to play at some point."
Diem, at 10 NFL seasons the most-tenured member of he Colts' offensive line, said what has been critical in recent weeks is a chance for a group that depends on continuity and cohesion to play together. Johnson has missed one game this season, and Diem and Saturday have started each game at center and right tackle.
Mike Pollak, a starter in 2008 and at the beginning of last season, has re-emerged as a first-team player, starting all six games at offensive guard. Kyle DeVan, a starter the last half of last season and the playoffs, has started Week 4 and this past week with Jamey Richard starting Weeks 1-3 and Week 5.
"I think just the fact that we've gotten the same group back on the field and we've worked together a little bit has been the difference," Diem said. "Obviously, preseason was kind of a mish-mosh with Charlie and Jeff out. We were shuffling guys around all over the place. To get them in there and get some consistency in the lineup was imant.
"There's been a little bit of a switcheroo at the left guard position, but anyone who's ready to go and step in there should be ready to play at that level and not see any fall off."
Diem said while the line has improved, "(Pass) protection hasn't been as great as it should be."
"There is some stuff that needs to be fixed there," Diem said.
But Diem and Johnson said while more improvement is necessary, the events of the first six weeks of the season – and the progress shown – give them the feeling it's possible.
"Absolutely," Diem said. "I think we were probably a little behind the eight ball with not everybody being on the field together in preseason, but we're definitely improving. The run game is coming around and when we get the chances to run, we're actually taking advantage of it. It's showing. There's definitely room for improvement there."
Said Johnson, "We're not where we want to be, but I think we're slowly but surely getting there. I think a lot of that has to do with getting six weeks to work with basically the same guys.
"It's just a time deal. You have to work together."