NFL Nation: Ben Ijalana

As expected, the New York Jets were busy on The Day After, acquiring three players on waivers. The newest name is former Colts left tackle Ben Ijalana.

Ijalana, a native of New Brunswick, N.J., was a second-round pick out of Villanova in 2011. He suffered a torn ACL in each of his first two seasons, causing the Colts to give up on him. He has played in only four games. It's a logical move for the Jets, who need depth at tackle. They figured veteran Jason Smith would be the answer, but he was woefully inept in the final preseason game.

An AFC scout said of Ijalana, "He's a smooth athlete. Good feet, not real physical. He's an undersized tackle [6-foot-4, 322 pounds], but has long arms."

The Jets have 10 offensive linemen on the roster.

To make room for the three waiver claims -- Ijalana, running back Alex Green and outside linebacker Scott Solomon -- the Jets released running back Kahlil Bell and linebacker Danny Lansanah and placed linebacker Josh Mauga (back) on injured reserve.

Bell and Lansanah enjoyed solid preseasons. In fact, Bell rushed for a team-high 114 yards and scored four touchdowns. Lansanah spent four years out of the NFL and thought he had made the team, but cut-down weekend is unpredictable. Shortly before the move was announced, Lansanah tweeted one word: "Wow!!!!!"
Most significant moves: This is a thin roster, so there weren’t a ton of standout cuts here. But there were two veteran names of note to get the axe in the first year of the Tom Telesco-Mike McCoy era in San Diego. Tackle Max Starks and receiver Robert Meachem were cut. Neither were very good this summer. Starks was signed to be the left tackle. But he was beaten out by King Dunlap and then by young Mike Harris to be the swing tackle. Meachem, signed in 2012 by the previous regime to be the No. 1 receiver, was a disaster. The team is thin at receiver and Meachem is guaranteed to make $5 million this season. Still, the Chargers decided to move away from him. Other cuts of note were center David Molk and pass-rusher Thomas Keiser. Both were expected to have roles going into camp.

Going young: This is a team that is rebuilding and the 53-man roster shows it. All six draft picks (cornerback Steve Williams is on the injured reserve) made the team and three undrafted free agents -- safety Jahleel Addae, nose tackle Kwame Geathers and defensive end Brandon Moore -- made the 53-man roster. U-T San Diego reports it’s the first time since 2007 that every draft pick made the team and the first time in 10 years that three undrafted free agents made the roster. Telesco is looking for youth to make an impact. The opportunity is there for these youngsters.

What’s next: This roster is far from set. The Chargers are going to be a work in progress. I expect Telesco will tinker with the bottom of this roster for the next several weeks, maybe even all season. As an executive in Indianapolis, Telesco was known for his eye for talent and for being able to pick up pieces off the street. Thus, this is his time to shine. He has plenty of work to do in San Diego. The Chargers could use depth on the offensive line, at receiver, on the defensive line, at outside linebacker and in the secondary. The team’s special teams was weak in the preseason. That’s a telltale sign of poor depth. So, more players are needed. Among the players San Diego could potentially look at are receivers Lavelle Hawkins, Chris Harper, Russell Shepard, Tavarres King, linemen Ben Ijalana, Fernando Velasco, Jake Scott and Danny Watkins and defensive tackle Drake Nevis.

Players cut: CB Cornelius Brown, OT Nick Becton, DE Frank Beltre, S Sean Cattouse, TE Ben Cotton, CB Marcus Cromartie, LB Phillip Dillard, CB Greg Gatson, CB Logan Harrell, DE Jerrell Harris, RB Michael Hill, CB Josh Johnson, LB Thomas Keiser, WR Robert Meachem, CB William Middleton, LB Dan Molls, WR David Molk, OT Randy Richards, TE David Rolf, G Steve Schilling, OT Max Starks, WR Luke Tasker.

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
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.
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.”
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 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 Bobbie Williams.

He 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.
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.

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.
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.

With Kerry Collins on the roster and poised to take over as the primary backup to Peyton Manning, Curtis Painter fared much better working with the Colts’ offense.

In a 24-21 loss to Green Bay at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday night, the Packers utilized one defensive element Manning typically helps Indianapolis avoid: the blitz.
Manning is masterful at making teams pay when they subtract from coverage to add to the rush. But Green Bay rolled out a steady stream of blitzes, many of which featured cornerback Charles Woodson, with no fear of such repercussions from Painter.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Painter
AP Photo/Michael ConroyWithout Peyton Manning, the Packers blitzed again and again on Curtis Painter.
Indy’s offensive line is still being sorted out, and the group didn’t do particularly well or get particularly good help in minimizing the pressure. Painter didn’t get hit so much as he had to hurry, and he was hardly at his best in such circumstances.

Desmond Bishop got flagged for roughing on one blitz, and Painter threw a ball away when Woodson looped between left tackle Anthony Castonzo and left guard Joe Reitz untouched. Another time, the quarterback made a nice throw to Reggie Wayne, who had a favorable matchup as Woodson came untouched.

No. 2 running back Donald Brown actually did reasonably well in blitz pickups, I thought, managing to keep himself between rushers and the quarterback on a couple of occasions. Still that rusher frequently contributed to a closing pocket.

The right side of the starting line, guard Ryan Diem and tackle Jeffrey Linkenbach, struggled with Clay Matthews, whose speed was more than they could handle.

Not every team is equipped to blitz the way the Packers are. But if it’s Collins instead of Manning on Sept. 11 in Houston, odds are the Texans will blitz more often and with less fear. And the Colts and Collins will have to be prepared to handle it.

Some other thoughts on what was nearly a rare Colts preseason win:

  • While Painter was better, it took a blown coverage that left Wayne wide open for a 57-yard touchdown to get him going. His second touchdown pass, to Chris Brooks, was very nice. Earlier Painter suffered because of a drop by Wayne and another by Pierre Garcon.
  • Ernie Sims was active in a lot of first-half action, his first since he signed with the Colts. Tommie Harris played for the second time, and made some plays with a sack and a tipped pass.
  • Jermichael Finley's touchdown catch on Pat Angerer was great. Angerer was tight but not turned. There aren’t many linebackers who could make a play against that.
  • According to CBS, Robert Mathis injured his hamstring in the first quarter hamstring and did not return. His counterpart at end, Dwight Freeney, made things very difficult on Green Bay tackle Chad Clifton, bulling over him a few times before using the patented spin move.
  • Diem, who false started too much last season at right guard, got called for one. An injury forced him from the game for a time, but he returned to action. Mike Pollak stepped in briefly. Jeff Saturday was the lone offensive lineman who didn’t play into the third quarter, as Pollak replaced him. Then the second-team offensive line was, left to right, Michael Toudouze, Kyle DeVan, Jamey Richard, Mike Tepper and Ben Ijalana. Richard was flagged for holding but it was declined.
  • I expect good things out of rookie running back Delone Carter, mostly because I very much like the idea of Carter. This team needs a short-yardage goal-line back. He was hardly working against front line defenders, I understand. But he not only got a tough yard -- converting a third-and-1 when there was nothing there -- but he had a couple of nice longer runs. A lost fumble was overturned by challenge, and a wide run with a spin move suggested he can be more than just a between-the-tackles pounder. He did look lost in one pass-protection situation.
  • Defensive back Chip Vaughn was waved off the field by Jim Caldwell after back-to-back penalties. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty worth 15 yards and a taunting penalty worth 11 yards, the Colts gave up a touchdown and a two-point conversion, lost an onside kick and saw Green Bay move to a game-winning field goal. Vaughn will not have a good weekend. And the Colts just about refuse to win in the preseason.
ANDERSON, Ind. -- The Colts are not afraid to start a rookie offensive lineman.

Just last season, Jeff Linkenbach, an undrafted rookie out of Cincinnati, started in a Week 3 win at Denver and again in regular-season games against New England and San Diego and in the playoff loss to the New York Jets.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Castonzo
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe Colts hope rookie offensive tackles Anthony Castonzo, 74, and Ben Ijalana, right, can quickly develop into starters.
But they amounted to spot starts, created by injury situations.

The team’s top two draft picks, Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana, are running with the second team now. They need to be pillars of a revamped offensive line for the last, five-year act of Peyton Manning's career.

But how soon will they be ready to move from understudy to lead?

"It's not going to be easy, obviously it's going to take a pretty unique guy who can catch on quickly and both of them have obviously the capabilities of doing so,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. “They are both very smart guys and guys that have also taken advantage of the break in time when we were so apart from one another and tried to learn as much as they possibly could. It takes a guy that's highly motivated. But it can be done. It's not an impossibility. But it's going to be difficult."

The Colts must be confident that Castonzo and Ijalana can protect Manning before they see the field. But let’s be honest, they aren’t trying to dislodge Tarik Glenn. Linkenbach is working as the starting left tackle, and he’s pretty raw himself. Veteran Ryan Diem took less money to remain with the team, but his game slipped significantly last year in his 10th season.

“You’ve got to go play against another team,” center Jeff Saturday said. “That’s the one thing you have to see. How they match up against each and every other end, what they look like when you are going through checks and different progressions and when you are going to audibles, and all those things that you really haven’t gotten into in the first week.

“Things are pretty basic right now. We’re beginning to add on to the foundation. But you haven’t seen any of those kind of reactions as of yet.”

At 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds, Castonzo matches Joe Reitz as the team’s tallest offensive lineman. At 317 pounds Ijalana is among the heaviest of the starting line candidates. The two bring the combination of size and athleticism the Colts haven’t had enough of at a high level in recent years with a largely patchwork line.

Indianapolis clearly has confidence that the two can contribute soon. They aren’t drafting projects in the first two rounds when Manning has only so many prime years left chasing another Super Bowl.

Dwight Freeney has plenty of experience against young tackles. Two years ago in the season opener against Jacksonville, he taught Jacksonville’s Eugene Monroe quite a bit.

“Our young tackles are definitely good, have a lot of potential, but it’s going to take some learning still,” Freeney said. “Offensive linemen, you don’t become really good until your third or fourth year. That’s always been my opinion. Your first year, you’re just trying to get used to your stance and the system. Then you really come into who you are going to be.

“It’s kind of a needy position, you obviously drafted them for a reason. But I know they’re not going to be as good (this year) as they’re going to be ultimately.”

Castonzo said his first practice work against Freeney was beyond a nightmare.

“I saw Freeney my first day in pads and that was really ugly, it really was,” he said. “He beat me every time he lined up against me. I’ve gotten a lot better since then, but obviously I’ve still got a lot of work to do. It’s definitely awesome to go against those guys every day in practice …”

What would it take for Castonzo to start on opening day in Houston?

“It basically comes down to communication and technique,” he said. “Once I know exactly what I am doing with the communication, it just comes down to trusting your technique, doing what the coaches tell you to do. I think if I can get those two things down, then I will be ready to go.”
ANDERSON, Ind. -- Some quick, initial impressions from the first practice of Colts training camp I watched…
  • Joe Reitz, who’s listed as a tackle, continues to work at left guard ahead of Jacques McClendon. He lined up with left tackle Jeff Linkenbach, center Jeff Saturday, right guard Mike Pollak and right tackle Ryan Diem to form the starting O-line.
  • Justin Tryon ranks as the third corner right now, but count me among those who think he could wind up second. I watched him encourage and advise undrafted rookie Terrence Johnson during one-on-ones about being patient working against receiver Taj Smith. Good stuff.
  • “Saturday,” a fan screamed and the center raised his fist before the rest of the line was delivered. “Thank you for the season.” He should hear that a lot based on his giant role in the CBA negotiations.
  • It can't be a fun job to be the guy who holds up a three-ring pack of laminated sheets with the right package or play name on it to the camera before each play. But the coaches need to have some stuff labeled as “Alcatraz” of “Queso” when they review and look for landmarks of the sets.
  • With Dwight Freeney out for the morning, the first-unit defensive line was, left to right, Jamaal Anderson, Fili Moala, Antonio Johnson and Robert Mathis.
  • Special teams worked on punting out of the back of the end zone and the block team did well to get to one off of Pat McAfee’s foot. Special-teams coach Ray Rychleski didn’t care for close-but-no-cigar on another snap. Well, not even close, apparently. “Don’t go near the guy,"' he barked at one rusher. “You’re not even close. Block it or don’t go near him.” The broader point: Roughing the punter penalties kill.
  • Watched some one-on-one pass rush and saw Tommie Harris win snaps against McClendon and Reitz. Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana looked good to me. Drake Nevis and Jerry Hughes didn’t have a great period from what I could tell.
  • Linebacker Ernie Sims is out two weeks after an appendectomy, according to Jim Caldwell.
Pre-draft, there was a lot of talk about the Colts possibly drafting their quarterback of the future.

I argued it was too soon, and still believe it would have been.

The Colts indicated there was one or two they liked and didn’t get a crack at.

With Peyton Manning in line for a five- or six-year contract, I think even next year is too soon to draft a quarterback to develop, because odds are he’d be in line to accept a contract elsewhere before Manning is done.

Dan Pompeii spoke with Bill Polian about it for this piece.

Manning’s window is certainly shrinking. The Colts certainly know the value of doing all they can to maximize their chances at having a good quarterback after he’s finished. But as Polian says, then won’t find another Manning.

My feeling is they should use all their resources to surround him with quality people -- as they did by drafting tackles Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana in April -- and depth rather than worry about long-range succession plans, at least not yet.

Am I expecting Manning to last too long? Let me know with your votes in our poll.
Mel Kiper recently wrote about seven 2010 rookies he expects to have a big second year. None were from the AFC South.

Kiper mentioned seven other players, and only one plays for an AFC South team.

Of the Colts first-round pick from 2010, Kiper says: “I was shocked at how little [defensive end] Jerry Hughes saw the field. Will he rise to the challenge? The innate pass-rushing skills are there if he responds to the coaching.”

Who’s got the combination of promise and opportunity to make that second year jump?

Here’s a name for each team from me:

Houston Texans

We wrote recently about Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell (a third-rounder out of Arizona in 2010) as the guys expected to fill the nose guard role in the Texans new 3-4 deployed by new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Mitchell’s got a great outlook and will have great opportunity. While Cody will be first in line, with the new coordinator, seniority should mean less and Mitchell may have more upside once he catches on to what the Texans ask him to do. But it could take some time. He’s only been a tackle for four seasons, having played as a fullback prior to that.

Indianapolis Colts

I was big on fifth-round tight end Brody Eldridge heading into his rookie season and thought he’d have a big influence on the rushing game. He didn’t really. Injuries allowed for the emergence of Jacob Tamme, a pass catcher, and more guys involved in a three-receiver set as the team sorted through receiver injuries. I’ll say Eldridge again. With two big rookie additions to the offensive line (Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana), a new goal line style back (Delone Carter) and a healthier stable of Peyton Manning targets, he’ll have more chances to have an impact.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars feel like their interior defensive line has turned into a strength because of the past two drafts, with 2009 third-rounder Terrance Knighton and 2010 first-rounder Tyson Alualu playing side by side. But the depth wasn’t what they’d planned on having because they lost third-rounder D'Anthony Smith early in training camp with a right Achilles injury. We don’t know what kind of pro Smith will be yet, but he stands to be an upgrade over guys like Leger Douzable, C.J. Mosley and Nate Collins, who finished last season as the interior depth.

Tennessee Titans

Mike Munchak and his offensive coordinator, Chris Palmer, simply have to find ways to get young receivers like Damian Williams to contribute earlier than their predecessors did. As a rookie third-rounder out of USC he didn’t win the return job and he didn’t get many chances at receiver, even late in the season when the Titans were foolish not to give him a thorough look. Justin Gage shouldn’t be around any longer and Williams should rank behind only Kenny Britt and Nate Washington in the Titans order, ahead of Lavelle Hawkins and Marc Mariani. Williams had a clear connection with Kerry Collins when the two played, a result of their team working on the scout team together. Whether Collins is the veteran QB ahead of Jake Locker or not, Williams should have opportunity.