Position Battle: Offensive Line

The Colts have a lot of new faces along the offensive line heading into the 2008 offseason. Who will stick on the roster and who will be left out in the cold? Brad Keller breaks it down.

Here is what is known heading into 2008:

Tony Ugoh, drafted in the second round in 2007 as the left tackle of the future, should have a job on Peyton Manning's blind side.

Ryan Diem on the right side is working through a big contract extension he signed after the 2005 season, so his job is safe.

Ryan Lilja signed a five year deal this offseason, so he should be penciled in at left guard.

• Although he is getting a little long in the tooth, Jeff Saturday is still far too skilled, valuable, and accomplished to lose his job at center. 

Charlie Johnson, who tried his best as Ugoh's replacement in 2007 and filled in quite well for Diem, has a roster spot secured.

The grey area exists at right guard, as Dylan Gandy, the heir apparent for the departed Jake Scott, was released shortly after the draft.

Mike Pollak
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Colts, though, were very active throughout the course of the draft and in the days following the draft and added guard Mike Pollak in the second round, center Steve Justice in the sixth round, and guard Jamey Richard in the seventh round.

They also brought in rookie free agent tackle Darren Marquez.  These men enter the offseason competing for roster spots against holdovers Michael Toudouze, Mike Elgin, Corey Hilliard, Tala Esera, and Daniel Federkeil.

That makes nine men fighting for four roster spots — one of them a starting job — with Federkeil, a third-year veteran, being the oldest and most experienced of the group. 

Indianapolis could always move Johnson inside to guard, since he's familiar with the right side and more well-suited for it.  At 6-feet-4 and 305 pounds, he is the prototypical size to play the guard position for the Colts, since he is a bit too small and his wingspan is too short to effectively play either of the bookend positions.

Pollak, though, might have something to say about that, since he was not drafted in the second round to sit on the bench and also has a rather impressive skill set of his own.  He is the more athletically gifted of the two and, in all honesty, the coaching staff has to be chomping at the bit to utilize someone of Pollak's draft pedigree at the guard position, since they are more accustomed to working with late round picks or street free agents.

The ideal situation would be for Pollack to beat out Johnson for the right guard spot, allowing the Colts to use Johnson as the top backup at both tackle positions and giving them more flexibility and options when injuries occur.

If that happens as predicted, then there are eight men left fighting for three jobs.

Justice was drafted with an eye towards the future, since Saturday cannot play forever and, as Indianapolis learned with the sudden retirement of Tarik Glenn, nothing can be counted upon from one year to the next.

If he continues to impress the coaching staff, he will catch onto the roster, moving him closer to Saturday and the field, where he hopes to be starting for years to come upon Saturday's retirement.

Darren Marquez
Photo: Tom Weber, Saluki Media Services

Marquez and Toudouze are gifted athletes that fit the physical mold of an NFL left tackle, but they both will require some time and training in order to reach their full potential.  They are better suited as practice squad projects with a roster spot being a more realistic goal in 2009, provided injuries do not ravage the offensive line as they did in 2007.

Federkil ended last season on injured reserve due to concussions, so his condition should be monitored.  He also has spent the past three seasons bouncing from team to team, so it may well be that he hasn't found the right fit, but it may also be that he just doesn't have what it takes to suit up on Sundays.

That leaves Hilliard, Elgin, Esera, and Richard vying for the final two spots.  Esera and Hilliard are both tackles, so that may leave them on the outside looking in, since Johnson would be able to back up any tackle that goes down with an injury and Toudouze and Marquez would be on hot standby if assigned to the practice squad.

Richard is the youngest of the bunch, and has the most upside, so at this point, one of the spots goes to him.  That leaves Elgin for the final spot on the roster, presumably at backup guard.

However, anything can happen as the pads come on and everyone starts practicing for real.

At this point, a number of athletes look tremendous in shorts in non- or low-contact drills.  As camps wear on, the football players are separated from the athletes and the onus falls on the coaches to fill out the roster. 

The good news for Colts fans is that, while none of these men are very different aside from age and experience at the moment, their true colors will come to light and it will become evident who does and does not deserve to wear speed blue.

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