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Early offseason theme for Colts: O-linemen

The Colts could have some big players back in the mix for Sunday’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys. Mike Chappell reports that Colts president Bill Polian said on his radio show that linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session, as well as running back Mike Hart, could be back.

Others, including Joseph Addai and Bob Sanders, are likely further off.

But as Chappell points out, while Hart and Addai could provide a boost to the run game, none of the injury returnees is going to help the offensive line, which has been insufficient as a run-blocking group and increasingly leaky in pass protection. (Sacks remain low, but pressure is up.)

“I think oftentimes, you guys are driven by what you see on TV," said coach Jim Caldwell at a news conference Monday. "They can highlight a certain couple of areas, and you think that was the way the entire game went. I think they can sort of prejudice your opinion a little bit.

"What we do is we take a look at it. We think we have the right people in there, but we are always trying to jostle it around, trying to make adjustments, trying to make certain that not only do we have the right people, but also are we doing the right things with the folks that we have in there? That’s up for critique, and we challenge ourselves in those areas and we try to find a way to improve. That’s the important thing.”

Polian identified the offensive line as a position of concern after last season, really singling out the effort in the Super Bowl. They were comments several players bristled at. (Greg Easterbrook hit on some of this here in his weekly Tuesday Morning Quarterback column.)

Longtime line coach Howard Mudd was known for molding players who were not high draft picks or top free agents into effective contributors. He retired and passed the torch to Pete Metzelaars, a transition that seemed smooth.

But in a move that was a stunner then and is baffling now, Polian let right guard Ryan Lilja go. Lilja has received good reviews for his play in Kansas City, while the Colts have played two ineffective right guards.

Mike Pollak was benched in favor of undrafted rookie tackle Jeff Linkenbach three games ago.

Left guard’s hardly been solid either, with Jamey Richard getting displaced by Kyle DeVan.

There should be more options.

After Lilja was released, the Colts brought in a couple low-level free agents in Andy Alleman and Adam Terry. Neither stuck. Fourth-round rookie Jacques McClendon has been inactive or worked on special teams.

Polian and the Colts identified a problem, but they really didn’t do anything to fix it, unless we count the Tony Ugoh resolution and release as addition by subtraction.

In the past five drafts, the Colts have taken eight offensive linemen, five in the fifth round or later.

Charlie Johnson is a scrappy left tackle who’s been better than many expected but still might be ideal as a third, swing tackle. Ugoh, Michael Toudouze and Steve Justice are gone. Pollak has been benched. McClendon is a reserve as are seventh-rounders Jaimie Thomas and Richard.

However this season plays out, the offensive line must be the primary concern in the offseason.

It’s time to hit on value picks -- plural. Quality guys and the team’s draft slots may not line up. The Colts may need to maneuver to change that.

It’s critical to Peyton Manning’s chances for another Super Bowl in his remaining years.