Do Polian, Colts see OL as draft priority?

April, 12, 2011
4/12/11
2:39
PM ET
Virtually every prognosticator is giving the Indianapolis Colts a first-round offensive tackle, and Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, Colorado’s Nate Solder and Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod could all be nice fits.

Much has been made of vice chairman Bill Polian’s comment during the 2010 season about how Rodger Saffold, a tackle the Colts passed on who went on to play quite well for St. Louis, could have helped for Indianapolis.

But Polian said that comment got misshapen as it was repeated.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Johnson
Stew Milne/US PresswireColts tackle Charlie Johnson played hurt for most of the 2010 season.
“What I said was, if I’d know we were going to suffer all the injuries we had on the offensive line, we might have looked at things differently in terms of the draft,” he said. “Because when you are drafting as low as we were, there isn’t a lot of difference between the players. I said, ‘You know, you could make the argument that we should have taken Rodger Saffold instead of the player that we took.’

“That’s what I said. It’s been construed very differently. What I meant was, if foresight were 20-20, we probably would have taken an offensive tackle. But it isn’t and that’s the point. This is an inexact business.”

(I thought the use of “the player” as opposed to “Jerry Hughes” was both Parcellian and a little odd.)

The Colts certainly had banged up people playing on the line all year, but by my count there look to have been just five starts missed to injury through the regular season and playoff loss. The injuries were far more severe elsewhere in terms of lost games.

Indianapolis has spent 12 picks on offensive linemen since realignment in 2002. Only one, guard Jake Scott from 2004’s fifth-round, qualified as an outright hit. He moved to Tennessee as a free agent in 2008 and helped pave the road for Chris Johnson's 2,000-yard season in 2009 before dropping off last season.

The franchise hasn’t used a first-round pick on a lineman since 1997, when Tarik Glenn was the choice. That was the year before Polian joined the franchise.

Only two of the Colts’ dozen offensive line picks since 2002 have been higher than fourth-round selections. They traded up to take Tony Ugoh in the second round in 2007 and he wound up busting. They took Mike Pollak in 2008 and he was an OK starter at right guard in 2010 based on the team’s concerns at other spots.

The presumption is offensive line is viewed as an issue in-house and that to maximize the chances for the Peyton Manning-led Colts to claim another Super Bowl, they need to offer him better protection and be able to block better for a tough yard from a running back.

But going in that direction would mean at least a minor philosophy change for Polian when it comes to draft emphasis at the position.

I don’t know if we should jump there considering Polian’s assessment of the Colts’ line play in 2010. The team started seven different offensive linemen with left tackle Charlie Johnson playing banged up all season and Kyle DeVan pushing Jamey Richard out of the left guard slot.

“Now I thought our offensive line, given all that happened with injuries, did very well," Polian said. "As it turns out, Jeff Linkenbach came in as a collegiate free agent and ended the season as a starter and did quite well. So those things work themselves out.”

Linkenbach started one game at left tackle, three games at right guard and the playoff loss to the Jets at right tackle.

Here we can connect Mel Kiper’s recent piece ranking the “vulnerability scale” of the NFL’s 12 best teams. Kiper ranks the Colts at moderately to extremely vulnerable for a big fall.
“Seemingly every win after September was a close battle and Manning was the difference. Injuries killed the Colts in 2010, but even with Manning upright, they couldn't run the ball, they were barely hanging on defensively and even now there are a number of personnel needs. The offensive line and defensive interior need help, and the team didn't get hurt in a spot I thought could have hurt it most in an injury situation -- the pass rush, if either Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis was out. Indianapolis could easily prove me wrong, as Manning alone seems like spackle enough for a whole roster. But this team felt like it was on the edge all of 2010.”

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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