Scout.com National NFL Reporter Adam Caplan has learned that Colts guard Mike Pollak, the team's top choice in April's NFL Draft, suffered a knee sprain in practice last week and is highly questionable for the season opener against Chicago Sept. 7. Pollak will not be available for Thursday's game against Cincinnati.
Pollak and Saturday combo block against Atlanta. Both men are expected to miss the start of the season with knee injuries
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Pollak has been in a competition with Charlie Johnson for the starting right guard position. While a starter has not yet been named, a league source told Caplan that Pollak is believed to have the inside track on the job.
Caplan has also learned that Jeff Saturday's injury is believed to be a grade-3 MCL sprain. Caplan told ColtPower.com that type of injury usually requires six to eight weeks of recovery time.
"The upside is that type of injury doesn't always require surgery and it can be healed up with rest and rehab," Caplan said.
The Colts also have an injury concern with LG Ryan Lilja, who had knee surgery after last season and hasn't practiced with the team since.
Lilja, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2007 season, signed a five-year, $20 million deal in February. A league source told Caplan that $4.5 million of that deal is guaranteed. Lilja also has a $1 million roster bonus due in March of 2009.
HARTZ'S HUNCH: After all the speculation over Peyton Manning's balky knee this preseason, the real problem for the Colts as opening day draws near seems to be the knees of the men charged with protecting him.
Certainly, the Colts will miss Saturday, a three-time All-Pro and veteran leader of the offensive line. The Colts have hinted at using Lilja at center, but with his health still in question, that's not a short-term solution — and an unlikely long-term one as well.
The likely scenario going forward is that rookie Steve Justice will get a trial by fire at center to start the season, Johnson will man the right guard slot until Pollak gets healthy, and either Daniel Federkeil or rookie Jamey Richard will get the nod at left guard.
What does it all mean for the Colts? Short-term, the team will continue to coach its young linemen to prepare them for the rigors of the season, and with their franchise quarterback recovering from knee surgery of his own, may have to play conservatively offensively to protect him. That means short drops, leaving more men in to protect in pass patterns and utilizing two tight end sets more.
Long-term, the focus is on getting the injured players healthy. The team may also be forced to make some decisions about the two veteran players, Saturday and Lilja. Saturday, although still a star, is in the last year of his contract and is 33 years old. Lilja should have several good years left — he turns 27 in October — but so far, the Colts are yet to see any return on the investment they made in the offseason.