AFC South: Ben Ijalana

Indianapolis Colts cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
Most significant move: Defensive lineman Fili Moala didn’t play in the preseason because was he was still rehabbing a knee injury from late 2012, but that didn’t stop him from making the roster. Keeping Moala put an end to fellow defensive lineman Drake Nevis’ time with the Colts. Fullback Dominique Jones was cut, leaving the Colts with only one fullback on the roster, Stanley Havili.

A feel-good story: Linebacker Caesar Rayford kept hearing from NFL teams over the years that they liked what they saw out of him on video while he played in the Arena Football League. Rayford, however, never got an invite to a training camp from any of those teams. That changed this year when the Colts, led by general manager Ryan Grigson’s willingness to search anywhere for talent, invited Rayford to camp. Rayford didn’t disappoint, either. He had a team-high five sacks during the preseason. Rayford now has a spot on the 53-man roster. The 27-year-old rookie’s best bet to get on the field will likely be on special teams. He’ll take it after getting looked over for so many years while he played in the Canadian and Arena Football League.

What’s next: Grigson and his staff aren’t going to sit tight. They’ll continue to monitor which players -- especially offensive linemen and possibly fullback -- around the league were released, and don’t be surprised if the roster the Colts take into their season opener against Oakland on Sept. 8 is completely different than the current one. The Colts will likely add quarterback Chandler Harnish and linebacker Daniel Adongo to the practice squad if both players clear waivers. Adongo didn’t play in the preseason, but the Colts are intrigued by the former rugby player. Harnish was on the practice squad last season.

Colts cuts: LB: Daniel Adongo, Josh McNary, Monte Simmons, Shawn Loiseau. DB: Larry Asante, Marshay Green, Sheldon Price, Daxton Swanson. OL: Thomas Austin, Ben Ijalana, Bradley Sowell, Lee Ziemba, Emmett Cleary. DL: Lawrence Guy, Drake Nevis, Martin Tevaseu. QB: Chandler Harnish. FB: Robert Hughes. TE: Dominique Jones. WR: Jeremy Kelley, Jabin Sambrano, Lanear Sampson
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Young players who will need to offer the Texans depth are one concern as camp approaches, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

McClain is amazed over how much heat Matt Schaub has taken for the Texans' late-season struggles and playoff failure in New England.

Sorting through outside linebackers with Patrick Starr of State of the Texans.

Indianapolis Colts

Five questions facing the Colts as training camp approaches, from Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Offensive tackle Ben Ijalana has a healthy left knee and, like his bosses and fans of the team, is eager to see what he’s got to offer, says Chappell.

Assessing the running backs on the Colts with Marcus Dugan of Colts Authority.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Depth behind Marcedes Lewis at tight end is a concern for the Jacksonville Jaguars, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

Front office executive Mark Lamping has been a major addition, says John Oehser of the team’s website.

Lamping has already been named to the board of Shad Khan's newest franchise, Fulham of the English Premiere League, says Cole Pepper on his blog.

Tennessee Titans

Damian Williams and Alterraun Verner recently visited Guatemala, a perspective-changing trip for the two Titans, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Previewing the cornerbacks heading into camp with Wyatt.

Some thoughts about new defensive tackle Sammie Hill from Tom Gower of Total Titans.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

The Texans' secondary is on the verge of being a primary force, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Left tackle Duane Brown will miss some time with a bruised lower leg, says McClain.

Indianapolis Colts

To sell their final 1,600 tickets per game, the Colts will turn to single-game sales, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Ben Ijalana was waived injured, and if he clears waivers he’ll revert to the Colts' IR, says Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue. I'm not in line with the bust talk. Ijalana could emerge in a year, in Indy or elsewhere, and still build a career.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Stalemates continue with Maurice Jones-Drew and Justin Blackmon, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

Defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith is looking to stay healthy and make a contribution, says Stellino.

How some Jaguars fans think the national media cover their team. (Video)

Tennessee Titans

Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy faces some durability questions as he heads into his second season, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

The Titans added tight end Joey Haynos and wide receiver Marcus Harris to their roster, says Glennon.
Whether Ben Ijalana was going to factor in to the Indianapolis Colts' offensive line plan, we did not know.

We know now he’s not an option, out for the year with a torn left ACL, the same injury that ended his rookie season in 2011 after four games. Inside linebacker A.J. Edds is also finished for the season with a torn ACL.

The previous regime drafted Ijalana out of Villanova in the second round in 2011 after picking Anthony Castonzo in the first round. They looked to be long-term bookend tackles. One evaluator of personnel told me right after the Colts’ draft that he thought Ijalana would be a better NFL player than Castonzo, the team’s left tackle.

As Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell were ousted and Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano replaced them, the team aimed to move away from a fast, agile line to a bigger, more physical group.

Ijalana, listed at 6-foot-4 and 317 last season, came into the league as a tackle. Pagano told Indianapolis reporters Tuesday that Ijalana rehabbed not only the reconstructed knee but also came back from two hip surgeries. As he did, he apparently bulked up, as he’s listed as a 337-pound guard now.

It’s sad for any guy who’s fought back from a serious injury to land in the same place, knowing he will have to do it all over again.

Once he does, he’ll be left to wait and see whether he’ll fit in the offensive line plan in 2013 after missing all but four of 32 games in his first two years.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Considering the future of the Texans' passing game with Rivers McCown of Battle Red blog. “I fear that they will assume the (Gary) Kubiak model will continue to work without a real replacement for (Andre) Johnson and become a yearly fringe-contender that is incapable of really knocking the door down. Mostly, I fear watching the Colts and Titans, with their shiny new offensive pieces, becoming threats to the Texans down the line solely because they can deliver more in the most important area of the NFL.”

Indianapolis Colts

As Andrew Luck worked with some kids not far from the Colts’ facility, he said he's letting his agent take care of contract negotiations, says Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star.

The Colts signed veteran running back Mewelde Moore, a player who’s familiar with Bruce Arians’ system from their time together in Pittsburgh.

Safety David Caldwell hopes time at the NFL’s broadcast boot camp pays off in a career after football, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Star.

Patience will be required for these Colts, says Tom Mantzouranis of

The Colts aren’t going to win the Super Bowl, but since Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report is doing a series on how each team in the division can do so, he puts forth this scenario.

Pro Football Weekly says Ben Ijalana and Joe Reitz will compete for the left guard spot.

Jacksonville Jaguars

General manager Gene Smith knows it’s time for high draft picks to play big, says Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union.

Tickets to a Georgetown-Florida basketball game on the deck of an aircraft carrier in Jacksonville will be packaged with Colts-Jaguars tickets for the Thursday night game at EverBank Field, says Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun. (Hat tip to Adam Stites who hat-tipped Andy Hutchins.)

Tennessee Titans

Says David Climer of The Tennessean: “There’s a difference between listing two quarterbacks on the same line on a depth chart and ranking them dead even. They may be 1-A and 1-B, but I suspect (Matt) Hasselbeck is solidly ahead of (Jake) Locker entering the final minicamp sessions. He should be.”

Chris Johnson was excused from Tuesday’s minicamp practice, but he’s been a regular at the facility this offseason, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Guard Leroy Harris was back in action on Tuesday, says Glennon.

Do the Titans still need help at the safety position? Glennon asks. The depth is poor so the answer is yes.

Being with the team during the offseason was important to Michael Griffin and did a lot to help him get a long-term deal, says David Boclair of the Nashville City Paper.
The Colts have added their third offensive linemen since the start of free agency, inking Oakland free-agent center Samson Satele.

“Samson is an experienced, productive and highly competitive offensive center,” general manager Ryan Grigson said in the team’s news release announcing the addition. "He has all the necessary traits to be one of the top centers in the NFL. He is not only a great player, but a great person and family man as well. We wanted him and we got him. We couldn’t be happier that he will now be a Colt for years to come and help us reach our ultimate goal.

Said Satele: “It’s a brand new team. In talking with Coach [Chuck Pagano] and everyone else, it feels like a family. It’s a fresh, new start for me and a fresh, new team. I can’t wait to get this rolling.”

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. says Satele isn’t real strong, but has shown steady improvement.

“He’s a finesse, movement guy, which is odd, considering that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians came from a power scheme with big, heavy O-linemen,” Williamson said.

Satele joins right tackle Winston Justice, who was acquired from Philadelphia in a very cheap trade, and interior lineman Mike McGlynn, signed away from Cincinnati.

The Colts have Anthony Castonzo locked in at left tackle and will piece together the rest of the line from a group of those three newcomers, along with holdovers including Joe Reitz, who finished the 2011 season as the team’s left guard, Jeff Linkenbach, who finished the season as right tackle and Ben Ijalana, the 2011 second-round draft pick who tore an ACL a month into last season.

“It’s a C group all together, but I really like Castonzo,” Williamson said. “Also, they will add another piece in the draft at some point. Calling it functional might be a bit generous.”
Kevin in Houston writes: Why is it taking so long to sign Chris Meyers, Mike Brisiel, Joel Dreessen and Neil Rackers? It's fairly clear the Texans were not going to be able to sign/afford Mario Williams. Did this not clear up enough room to get some of these key players back? It just feels like the Texans just don't care.

Paul Kuharsky: Teams don’t operate on fans’ timetables.

The Texans have re-signed Arian Foster and Chris Myers now. Brisiel, Dreessen and Rackers are nice pieces, but hardly urgent. So you let them see the market. If they hit the lottery, you say congrats. If they don’t, you wind up in a favorable position to get them back.

Why make the jump to “they don’t care?” Why wouldn’t they care?

Chris in Washington, D.C., writes: Your Tennessee bias has been on astounding display over the past week. Could you make it any clearer that you hope Peyton goes there? Last I checked, this is an AFC South blog, not a Titans blog. You should write accordingly. As a journalist, I don't have a whole lot of respect for your coverage right now. Or maybe ESPN "bloggers" should be held to a lesser standard?

Paul Kuharsky: Peyton Manning is the biggest story in sports right now. He’s not considering playing for Jacksonville or Houston. The Colts cut him, so any post about his potential landing spot is of interest to Indianapolis. I’d be writing a great deal about him even if one of his primary suitors was not in the division. But it is.

I’ve written about the goings on with other teams.

None, right now, have nearly as much going on as the Titans do.

That’s how it works -- the biggest story and most active team gets the most attention. When the Texans were in the playoffs, it was them. When the Colts were deciding on Manning, it was them. As the Titans court Manning, it’s them.

Bo from Spearfish writes: With Jax signing a decent WR (Robinson) and Mincey to stay at DE, what’s their first-round priority? CB? Or do they protect Gabbert with an OL pick. I personally would still prefer another set of hands opposite Robinson.

Paul Kuharsky: You can’t force a priority on a first-round pick, but they still need a big time pass-rusher and a corner. But wide receiver trumps all in my eyes, especially if Laurent Robinson is all they do in free agency.

Scott in Missoula, Mont., writes: Winston Justice? Really? Why in the world would the Colts take an overpaid, backup OT and give up their position in the sixth round, disregarding for a moment the fact they have Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana, instead of trying to court Evan Mathis, Ben Grubbs and/or Chris Myers, who are proven upper-echelon offensive linemen? Seems like the only positive move Ryan Grigson has had thus far is keeping Reggie Wayne to be Andrew Luck's #1 WR. Your thoughts?

Paul Kuharsky: I think we give Winston a chance, just like we give Grigson and all the newcomers a chance. Ijalana’s hardly a sure thing himself. Grubbs and Myers were pretty costly and the Colts don’t have much money. And swapping sixth-rounders with Philly for Justice was hardly any cost at all.

Barry in Indy writes: I see where some teams offered a 1st or 2nd round tender offer to their FAs. Do you know if the Colts did this with Pierre Garcon? At this point, the Colts need all the draft picks they can get. Thanks in advance!

Paul Kuharsky: Tender offers are for restricted free agents. Teams are able to retain them with a tender offer, which gives them the right to match any offer sheet they might sign or get the draft pick attached to the tender as payback for not matching.

Teams have no power to attach anything to unrestricted free agents. The only thing they stand to get back later is a compensatory draft pick, third round or later, if the sum of their free-agent losses outweighs the sum of their gains. And those come in the draft the following year.

Michael from Cypress, Texas writes: No disrespect to Manning, but I think he'd be a great QB coach at Houston. Can you imagine TJ Yates and Matt Schaub getting tips from Peyton?

Paul Kuharsky: Actually I can’t imagine it at all. Why would he want to do that? He’s going to make a ton of money playing and has a chance to try to win another Super Bowl.
The Colts' recrafting of their offensive line group is now two deep. A day after trading for Winston Justice, the team has a deal with free agent Mike McGlynn, according to a tweet from McGlynn.

But while Justice looks to be a favorite to start at right tackle, McGlynn played sparingly for Cincinnati last season, mostly because of injury and Bobbie Williams.

Justice started the Bengals final three regular-season games and their playoff game at right guard, and was also listed as the backup to Kyle Cook at center.

Four of the Colts' top five interior linemen from the end of last season are not under contract: center Jeff Saturday, guard Mike Pollak, guard Jamey Richard and Ryan Diem, who shifted inside last year after a long tenure as the right tackle.

Ben Ijalana, who missed his rookie year with an early knee injury, could be in the guard mix going forward, particularly if Justice proves solid at tackle.

Will McGlynn be more than depth?

We’ll have to see who else Indianapolis winds up with and how they all play.
The Indianapolis Colts intend to beef up their lines and field a bigger team for Chuck Pagano.

Today’s trade for offensive tackle Winston Justice is a move toward that.

With a simple exchange of sixth-round picks in this year’s draft, Indianapolis got Justice from Philadelphia. He’s a player general manager Ryan Grigson is familiar with, as Grigson came to the Colts from a front-office post with the Eagles.

The Colts inherit a guy due a base salary of $3.225 million in 2012.

“I’m not sure exactly what it cost them, but I very much like the move,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “He isn’t great, but he is a solid right tackle and has had success in this league. It looks like they have their offensive tackles in place (with Anthony Castonzo and Justice) and that is at least something to help Andrew Luck out. And Ben Ijalana could potentially turn into a high end guard ... maybe.”

I think it’s a good move that forecasts the type of thing we can expect from the Colts.

Mel Kiper regrades the 2011 draft

January, 12, 2012
Mel Kiper hass gone back and reconsidered the grades he gave each NFL team after the 2011 draft, regrading Insider after seeing everyone’s rookie season.

A look at his take on the teams of the AFC South:


Then: B-

Now: C+

Kiper: “[Anthony] Castonzo hasn't been spectacular, but at least he has made it to the left side and looks like the future there. What can he be? Well, if he does a good job of protecting Andrew Luck, the grade certainly will get a bump. But we don't know yet. Ben Ijalana hasn't shown a lot. Drake Nevis has had moments but mostly got good reps for a bad defense.”

Kuharsky: It’s also important to note what they didn’t draft: sufficient help for the secondary.


Then: C-

Now: D

Kiper: “Suffice to say, I don't think throwing [Blaine] Gabbert in there with a lack of legit passing targets given his developmental needs was a great idea. I still think Gabbert has a shot because he has a lot of good physical tools and can be very accurate, but I hope the experience of this season is something he grows from and isn't a developmental setback. Elsewhere, there isn't much.”

Kuharsky: Guard Will Rackley was not great. The Jaguars’ big additions were in free agency, not through the draft. This draft’s grade will always hang on Gabbert.


Then: C

Now: B

Kiper: "The Titans got some really good early returns and value. Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug, picked in the third and fifth rounds, respectively, have been very good (Klug really got after quarterbacks), and so has Akeem Ayers, which wasn't much of a surprise. It's hard to up the grade too much until we know whether Locker is indeed the future, but a year out, it looks like the Titans planned and scouted well overall."

Kuharsky: Considering we haven’t seen Jake Locker, the top pick, start a game yet, it’s hard to get much more out of a rookie class than the Titans did.


Then: B

Now: A-

Kiper: "If you consider that Houston got 11 sacks out of a combo of [Mario] Williams and [Brooks] Reed, the injury to Super Mario doesn't seem so terrible. Of course, the big steal here was to find T.J. Yates in the fifth round after he wasn't even invited to the combine."

Kuharsky: J.J. Watt proved the most impactful pick in the entire division and this class had a big hand in reshaping the Houston defense.

Mailbag: Wrestling your tough questions

December, 17, 2011
John Lloyd from Yulee, Fla., writes: I count 24 players on jag IR. How did you get 27?

Paul Kuharsky: They placed a couple on IR that they eventually reached a settlement with. That means they can release those players while they're still injured. So they disappeared from the roster. But their seasons ended when they were put on IR.

Jason from Philadelphia writes: You get 10 Colts players to keep next year, who are they? Top 5 in order, 6-10 doesn't have to be. Manning doesn't count. Freeney Mathis Castonzo Bethea Nevis Angerer Ijalana Wayne Clark Collie. Picked the tackles and Nevis because they are new draft picks and have shown promise when healthy. I've always stayed positive but that list was harder than I thought it would be. The talent level has really dropped off. I almost put McAfee in there.

Paul Kuharsky: OK, Manning doesn’t count and I am really concentrating on having the best team I can next year. I’ve changed this a bit from when I emailed you back.

I’d go: Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Antoine Bethea, Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pat Angerer, Anthony Castonzo, Ben Ijalana, Drake Nevis and Jerraud Powers. Donald Brown just missed. I think he can actually run and will get out of the doghouse if there is a new regime. I think Dallas Clark's injuries are starting to mount and I don’t know if you can expect anything close to a full season from him.

Jimmy Bagley from Philly, Pa., writes: Looking at your rankings, I am trying to figure out why you have Houston so low.... Why wouldn't they be at the number 4 spot? Green Bay, obviously number one with a bullet. Baltimore, number two ok. N.O. should be 3 and the Texans at 4... At this point in the season, why aren't the tie breakers used to figure these in.... Houston holds the tie breaker over both Pit and NE.... They were the first team in the AFC to clinch, and have the best divisional record of all the teams.... Not to mention the number 2 defense in the league and a top 3 running game.... They have managed to win in all types of circumstances.... After last week’s come from behind win I thought for sure it would win over critics waiting for them to choke... What else is going to take for the respect to come in.

Paul Kuharsky: What you are looking for, apparently, is the official playoff order for the league right now. (If we do that, what’s the point?) What the power rankings are looking for is my opinion on where teams stand. The official playoff rankings of the moment don’t take into account a third-string quarterback as the starter. No matter how impressive T.J. Yates has been, we have a very small sample size so far. And I have a tough time ranking a team he’s leading ahead of one led by Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger, who’ve won Super Bowls. The one case you can make is that the Texans should be ahead of Pittsburgh based on having beaten them. But the Steelers are a much better team now than they were then.

Also you suggest I should rank the Texans higher because they clinched earlier and have a better division record. So they get a reward for the Colts and Jaguars stinking and the Titans being average?

I have Houston sixth. I think we differ on whether that’s good or bad. I think it’s quite good.

I am continually amazed by how people regard the issue of respect. I think, universally, analysts are impressed by what the Texans have done and think they are a very good team. Apparently some of you think we should be holding parades for them and telecasting half-hour specials about their greatness.

Scott Freistat from Hermitage, Tenn., writes: ESPN's latest ranking poll states that if the playoffs were to start today (12/13) the Texans would have the No. 1 seed. How is that possible considering they have the same records as the Ravens (10-3) and the Ravens own the head-to-head matchup? Please explain.

Paul Kuharsky: In a three-way tie, head-to-head results aren’t the top tiebreaker because it does nothing to factor in the third team. The Ravens win a tiebreaker over the Steelers being from same division. Then it’s Texans-Ravens-Patriots. If one team has swept the other two, it wins a tiebreaker. If not, then it’s conference record. The Texans win that right now.

Brian Vining from Douglas, Ga., writes: Who is Matt Williamson? So I guess this so called expert wants to give up on a first round QB who has no weapons except for Maurice jones-Drew. Gabbert was not even going to be the starter this year. He is a young QB who needs time to develop. With a good coach and a couple of WR who can catch the ball Gabbert will be great. I'm not saying the Jags is the best out of the three but if I were a coach and could go to a team with a young up and coming QB. A great RB in MJD and a much improved defense I would jump on it. That's not even to mention Gene Smith who has the right philosophy to build a team who can contend for years. National media at it again. Gabbert sucks, the Jags can't fill the stadium, Jags are moving to LA. Maybe if some of them would actually do a little homework they would know none of this is true.

Paul Kuharsky: Williamson is a former NFL scout who knows as much about current personnel as anyone in my business.

Your logic falls apart here: “Gabbert was not even going to be the starter this year.” Then why is he the starter this year? Nothing catostrophic happened. The team chose to cut David Garrard and it chose to bench Luke McCown. Those moves made Gabbert the starter. If you don’t want him starting, arrange for him not to start. I don’t know how we can say he was not supposed to start and offer amnesty based on that. They are starting him. As promising as Gabbert may be, it’s not at all inaccurate to say he’s been horrible this season.

I like Smith, but the rebuild is not moving at a fast enough pace. His philosophy starts with foundation-building and two good lines. Three years in, I don’t see two good lines, do you? And where is anything close to a late-round home run?

Mike M. from Houston writes: The next man up approach only works if the next man up has talent. The Texans have shown that they have talent beyond the 22 starters on the roster. Most have been draft picks, UDFA's, or were low level free agents when acquired (like Kevin Walter or Jason Allen). Does this make Rick Smith the front runner for executive of the year???

Paul Kuharsky: That’s an excellent point, that the next man up has to be equipped to do the job. Lots of teams without good depth get hurt and fall apart.

But let’s not make it like Rick Smith is at the powerful end of the spectrum of GMs in terms of decision-making. It’s a joint operation and he’s not bringing in anyone Gary Kubiak doesn’t sign off on. Wade Phillips had great influence on what they did in the draft and then free agency as well.
Indianapolis' offensive line and interior defensive line are so thinned out by injuries that Jeff Saturday joked with Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star about deviating from the team’s next-man-up mantra.

"We (are) going to have to start bringing in some next men," Saturday said.

Monday night in a loss at Tampa Bay, defensive tackle Eric Foster dislocated his right ankle. Tuesday he had season-ending surgery. Starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo left the stadium with a boot on his left foot and walking with the aid of crutches and his replacement, Ben Ijalana, had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter after damaging his left knee, Chappell says.

According to the report, Ijalana could be out for the season with ACL damage.

The team is expected to elevate one of the defensive tackles from its practice squad, Ricardo Matthews or Ollie Ogbu.

The Colts were already thin on the offensive line before Monday night’s game, with Ryan Diem out and Joe Reitz hurting. They signed offensive tackle Mike Tepper from the practice squad Monday afternoon. He wound up playing right tackle after Castonzo and Ijalana went down.

We’ll learn more about the offensive linemen today.

But things are certainly a mess on the injury front. Again.

UPDATE, 12:15 p.m.: The Colts put Ijalana and Foster on IR and waiveed linebacker Nate Triplett. They signed offensive tackles Michael Toudouze and Quinn Ojinnaka as well as Mathews.

Considering the Colts in prime time

September, 22, 2011
Kerry CollinsBob Levey/Getty ImagesThings haven't been easy for Kerry Collins and the Colts without Peyton Manning in the lineup.
Indianapolis knows it. Colts devotees know it. Those who follow the league closely know it. Fantasy football owners with Colts in their lineups know it.

The rest of football-watching America is scheduled to find out Sunday night that the Indianapolis Colts are not good.

Typically a great national draw, Indianapolis plays its first game of the season on national television on "Sunday Night Football" when it hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers.

No team in the NFL had the capacity to come so undone by the loss of its best player like the Colts have without Peyton Manning. At 0-2, they’re talking about seeing incremental improvement. But they’ll have to make a giant leap from how they played at Houston and against Cleveland to have a chance against the Steelers.

A week later, they’ll play in Tampa Bay on "Monday Night Football." Then there is Oct. 23 at New Orleans (Sunday night), Dec. 4 at New England (Sunday night) and Dec. 22 against Houston (Thursday night).

The Colts will be a candidate to be flexed out of those late Sunday night games instead of being flexed into more. (Flexing starts the weekend of Nov. 20, so that New Orleans game is locked in.)

Five prime-time games for a team now expected to be among the NFL’s worst could make for some painful viewing. Let’s remember, however, that plenty of matchups that look bad turn out to be good games to watch and plenty of good-looking matchups turn out to be lopsided duds.

There really is no predicting, except that the networks and the people watching them won’t be seeing what they expected when the schedule came out: The Colts with Manning.

Three thoughts on the status of the Colts as they approach their 49th meeting with the Steelers:

1) Originally, I set out to write about moves the Colts could make to try to patch things up.

But the fact is, there simply isn’t much they can do with what they’ve got.

I thought Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. put in eloquently in our email exchange this week when I asked him what he would do to fix things.

“That is the problem,” he said. “They are built in such a manner that they really cannot adapt. It isn’t like their offensive line can all of a sudden switch to a power running game and starting pushing people off the ball. Or that the defense can get bigger and more physical to play the run. They are built for speed on D and for shootouts. But this O isn’t getting in any shootouts.”

The Colts have been dismissive of the idea that they are built to play from ahead, citing all of Manning’s last-minute comebacks. Sure, there have been glorious exceptions.

But against lesser teams, they’ve spent a lot of time out in front. Clearly it’s the best scenario for them. It allows two of their best players, ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, to focus solely on terrorizing quarterbacks. It allows their secondary to keep things in front of them and concentrate, most of all, on not allowing big plays.

[+] EnlargeBen Ijalana
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireThe Colts might be better off adding rookie Ben Ijalana to the starting lineup.
Other teams, with more physical defenses and offenses that seek to wear opponents down, are better equipped to stand toe-to-toe for 60 minutes than the Colts are, even when healthy.

2) Coach Jim Caldwell has hinted there could be some lineup changes, but there is nothing major the team can really do. Ten guys besides Manning missed practice Wednesday, so injuries may dictate some alterations.

One move Caldwell said isn’t coming is Ben Ijalana into the starting lineup at right tackle.

Why not? When the Colts spent their second-round pick on Ijalana, more than one person who scouted the draft for an NFL team told me he thought Ijalana was going to be a better player than the team’s first-round pick, tackle Anthony Castonzo. Castonzo’s been starting on the left side.

Unless Ijalana is really stinking it up in practice, the Colts should accept that any fall off from Jeff Linkenbach to the rookie should be made up in relative short order if Ijalana is who they thought he was.

It’s OK to acknowledge that, given the season’s circumstances, you’re willing to change course and accelerate Ijalana’s timetable. Maximize the chance to have a good line for Manning in 2012.

Again, why not?

3) Two games into the season, Manning’s injury is hardly the only one the team is concerned with.

Thirteen players were on the team’s Wednesday injury report. Questions about why the Colts can’t stay healthy have been around for a long time, and there aren't any easy answers.

They are, by design, built with faster guys who are smaller than a lot of the competition. Surely that’s at least a small factor.

But they’d be wise to track who’s injury prone and who’s not and to make it more a part of their philosophy more often to steer away from guys with long injury résumés -- both in re-signing their own and in making their draft picks.

Manning had the league’s longest consecutive starts streak before his neck knocked him out. Reggie Wayne has played 16 games in eight straight seasons. Neither is the biggest or most rugged guy at his position. They’re stars, of course, but they are stars who’ve had a knack for staying healthy enough to play.

If the team philosophy and construct remains the same, somehow the personnel folks need to do better at finding those kinds of guys. Waiting on your luck to change isn’t a great strategy.

Colts: What they play before they play

September, 9, 2011
You see them in headphones, walking into the stadium, heading from the locker room to the field, as they stretch and run and get ready for kickoff.

Before the iPods are turned off and put away, what’s the last song the Titans listen to in order to get in the right frame of mind?

Build a playlist based on this if you dare:

Tight end Jacob Tamme: Black Eyed Peas, “I Got a Feeling”

“It’s got a nice little beat. And the lyrics, ‘Tonight’s gonna be a good night,’ there is nothing wrong with that type of thinking before you hit the field.”

Linebacker Kavell Connor: Pastor Troy, “Vice Versa”

“It just gets me into a zone where I focus, where I am ready to go to battle, ready to go to war.”

Cornerback Jerraud Powers: Explosions in the Sky

“It sort of calms me down, helps me focus. But I’ve got the new Jay-Z and Kayne West, I’m pretty sure I will be bumping that too."

Kicker Adam Vinatieri: Incubus, "The Warmth"

"Great, great pregame song. Best all-time pregame song. Listen to the lyrics. The lyrics are fantastic. It starts off slow, there is a little bit of an upbeat to it. But the lyrics are where it's at. It gives you chills."

Cornerback Kevin Thomas: DMX, “Where My Dogs at”

“It just gets you in the mindset of getting rowdy, getting hyped and pretty much playing at full speed, reckless.”

Linebacker Gary Brackett: Marvin Sapp, “Never Would Have Made It”

“It’s an inspirational song. It’s an affirmation of why I am here.”

Running back Joseph Addai: Bob Marley, “No Woman, No Cry”

“I need to be able to relax to play. Dealing with Peyton [Manning], you’ve got to be able to relax. I need to calm my nerves, be ready for Peyton.”

Safety Antoine Bethea: 2Pac, “Dear Mama”

“It just gives me focus and let’s me know why I am out there. If it wasn’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be here. It’s just something that really mellow me down, doesn’t get me too hyped too early.”

Running back Delone Carter: Young Jeezy, “Handle my Business”

Offensive lineman Ben Ijalana: Lupe Fiasco, “Kick, Push”

“At my position, the calmer I find myself, the better I play.”

And the outliers who don't have one song or don't have a music routine:

Center Jeff Saturday: “I don’t really listen to music pregame. It used to be me, [Charlie Johnson] and Ryan Diem would listen to ‘Cult of Personality’ by Living Color. Chuck’s gone. He was the guy who played it. We’ll see who rises to the forefront with the music. I’ve been at this a long time, I don’t really need a lot of external motivators. I pretty much show up ready to get it done.”

Defensive end Dwight Freeney: “Every year is different, I find a different one. I’m a guy who doesn’t have one particular song. I kind of go out and shuffle through it. This song got me going today.”

Receiver Reggie Wayne: “My last song is just really hearing the crowd roar. I don’t really have a song to get me going. I like to hear that 12th man screaming, that’s when I know it’s time for battle.”

Left tackle Anthony Castonzo: “To tell you the truth, I don’t listen to any music on game day. I just close my eyes and picture things I just prefer silence. I just kind of go into my own brain and start to picture myself doing things properly.”

Quarterback Kerry Collins: He dabbles in writing country music songs and has friends in the business in Nashville, but said he doesn't listen to music as part of his pregame routine.
TBDBrian Spurlock/US PresswireWhat are the biggest issues facing the Colts in the absence of star quarterback Peyton Manning?
Ten questions worth pondering about the Colts without Peyton Manning:

1. Who’s under the most pressure?

The obvious answer is Kerry Collins, but if the expectations are unreasonable for the 39-year-old quarterback, that’s not on him. He can still be effective, but consistency is an issue and he tends to start games slowly. That’s a problem for the Colts, who are built to jump to leads and let defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis pursue quarterbacks who are trying to throw to catch up. Those successful two-minute drills that Manning has run at the end of a half or a game won't happen as often with Collins.

2. What will we learn about Colts head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen?

Jokes about Manning coaching the team tend to be over the top. But he certainly makes more pre-snap decisions on the field than any other quarterback in the league. Even if Collins winds up making some of those reads and determinations, Caldwell and Christensen must show they can plan effectively for him in a way they weren’t always responsible for with Manning at the controls.

3. Is the line ready to play better?

A lot of people not that familiar with how the Colts play look at the sack numbers (16 allowed in 2010) and judge Indianapolis to be one of the league’s best pass-protecting offensive lines. It’s not. The Colts spent their top two draft picks on offensive linemen Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana. Castonzo is slated to start at left tackle, and left guard Joe Reitz has not played in an NFL regular-season game. Ryan Diem appears to be moving from right tackle to right guard as Jeff Linkenbach, undrafted last year, takes Diem’s long-time spot. Collectively, the group must offer Collins reliable protection and block more effectively for a running game that must do more.

4. How does Collins handle blitzes and pass pressure?

[+] EnlargeKerry Collins
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesColts quarterback Kerry Collins has issues with consistency and starting slow.
Teams typically paid for blitzing Manning, but defenses will certainly try to do more to get to Collins. He didn’t move well when he was younger, and it’s certainly not a big piece of his game now. He’s not afraid to throw it away and live for another day. And former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, who coached Collins the past five years in Tennessee and game-planned against the Colts twice a year from 2002 through 2010, said Indianapolis will be equipped to counter extra blitz pressure with screens to Joseph Addai.

5. Who has a chance to shine?

Even if Manning were around, I expected the Colts to try to get the ball to rookie running back Delone Carter in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He’s different than fellow running backs Addai and Donald Brown and seems like a player who can find a tough yard even when things don’t get blocked as they should. That offensive line can get a lot of attention if it plays well. And Brody Eldridge, more of a blocking tight end, could see more time if the Colts feel like they must sacrifice three-wide sets for additional protection or run-game help.

6. Can the defense help more?

As we mentioned, it’s a team built to pass rush against an offense that must throw. The Colts have not been a good run-stopping team and the defense didn’t fare well at it in the preseason. Indianapolis is slated to face a bunch of top-level backs. We could see two veteran additions at end, Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton, get chances to contribute on run downs and help keep Freeney and Mathis fresher to rush. Rookie tackle Drake Nevis can help too. Overall, the philosophy of limiting big plays and making teams move it a little at a time has worked well enough. It’s not like they can make a dramatic change in it now.

7. What about special teams?

It’s been a neglected area for much of the Manning era. The offense is good at driving the ball down the field and doesn’t often get a good return to set up field position. While Manning makes big dollars, so do the team’s other stars: Freeney, Mathis, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett and Antoine Bethea. Dedicating a lot of pay to that core means the team doesn’t have a lot of veteran backups, and veteran backups make up the backbone of good special teams units. This also is an area where things can’t really be changed because they are dictated by personnel.

8. What if Collins goes down?

Curtis Painter, a sixth-round draft pick from Purdue in 2009, is the third quarterback. The team is very defensive about him, but it’s an organization that works very hard to defend draft picks. But the fact is, in his limited regular-season action and in the preseason, Painter has been ineffective. If the Colts lost their backup quarterback and had to turn to Painter, they’d be in giant trouble. I can’t see Indianapolis going after another veteran now. David Garrard, released by the Jaguars this week, should find a job better than what the Colts might have to offer. I don’t see Indy being interested in him anyway.

9. Will the offense slow down?

As experienced and as wily as Collins may be, it’s difficult to imagine him being able to play at Manning’s pace, snapping the ball to catch defenses with too many men on the field or flapping his arms while changing, or pretending to change, what’s about to unfold. The Colts, however, benefit from locking defenses into personnel groupings. If Indy doesn’t huddle or take the time to substitute, the opponent can’t either. Whether they can, or want to try to, maintain that as an advantage remains to be seen. If they huddle more, they allow defenses to adjust more, too.

10. If the season is a total bomb, would they want Stanford QB Andrew Luck in the draft?

The deal Manning just signed is for five years. But if Indianapolis vice chairman Bill Polian had a chance at a guy who’s regarded as the best college quarterback to come out since, perhaps, Manning, I don’t see how the Colts wouldn’t take him and let him learn under Manning. But a four-year wait for Luck to play couldn’t happen either, and the Colts would have to craft a long-term plan.