Five to Watch: Jaguars at Colts

The Colts start the 2009 season at home against division rival Jacksonville. Although the status of Maurice Jones-Drew is uncertain, the long history between the two teams should give fans an idea of what to expect. The newest addition to the ColtPower team, Brett Mock, focuses on five players to watch Sunday.

The Jaguars like to play a clock-controlling, run-centered offensive game plan, using their size on defense to stop the run and force Manning to pass into a crowded secondary. While the game plan has not resulted in a winning record against the Colts, it's typically kept games close, led to an advantage running the ball, and kept Peyton Manning on the sidelines.

The following players have the most to prove as the Colts fight for control of the ball, try to slow the Jaguars running attack, and attempt to re-establish the run after a dismal year on the ground in 2008:

1. LT Charlie Johnson: Johnson has come a long way since joining the Colts as a sixth round draft pick in 2006. He set a high bar for himself as a rookie when he filled in for right tackle Ryan Diem in the Super Bowl, a substitution Peyton Manning said he did not notice for a two full quarters.

In 2007 and 2008, Johnson succeeded in establishing himself as one of the most dynamic backup offensive linemen on the team, filling in for injured starters at left guard and both tackle positions.

However, at no point over the last two seasons has Johnson been able to match his marquee performance in the Super Bowl or win over the confidence of coaches or fans as a full-time starter.


Protecting Peyton Manning's blind side is Johnson's top job
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This summer, that all changed as the Colts announced that Johnson would replace 2007 second-round pick Tony Ugoh as the starting left tackle, charged with protecting Peyton Manning's blind side. Supplanting a two-year starter and second-round pick is no small order and does not give Johnson a great deal of cushion for mistakes or time to grow into his position.

Johnson did a nice job at left tackle in the preseason, though certainly not flawless. As his experience at the position grew, he improved, showing his best work in the third preseason game against the Detroit Lions.

Still, he enters the season as a legitimate starter for the first time and will quickly be tested by a two-headed monster on the Jaguars' defensive line. On most downs he will line up across from Derrick Harvey, who is young but should present a challenge as a strong, penetrating defensive end, or outside linebacker, depending on whether the Jags are showing their standard 4-3 or new 3-4 look.

Johnson cannot afford to be one-dimensional because the Jaguars may focus on bringing speed off of the edge, bringing in Quentin Groves, who is lighter and faster than Harvey.

How Johnson performs will give the team an idea of what to expect moving forward, and could determine whether Johnson holds down the starting position or opens the door for Tony Ugoh.

2. RG Mike Pollak: Pollak joined the team as a second round draft pick in 2008 and, when healthy, started at right guard. It was no surprise that would struggle as a rookie but it has made fans nervous about his future.

Pollak will have no easy assignment as the Jaguars interior includes mammoth-sized John Henderson, who is reportedly performing at a higher level than he did in 2008 and will slide up and down the line, and rookie Terrance Knighton, who is 6-feet-3, 325 pounds. He will need to show that he can consistently control the line, open running lanes, and secure the pocket for the team to be comfortable with him moving forward, justifying his high draft choice.

Last year, the Colts relied upon rookies on the interior of the offensive line as it dealt with the exit of Jake Scott, a season-long injury to Ryan Lilja, and the loss of Jeff Saturday for a couple of games. This year the Colts have added Kyle DeVan, who can play center and guard, have retained Jamey Richard, who can also play both positions.

If Pollak proves early that he has not developed enough to allow the Colts to effectuate their offensive game plan, his spot is not as secure as it was a year ago.

3. DT Daniel Muir: Of the two defensive tackles the Colts acquired last season, Muir has the most proving to do against first team NFL offensive linemen. He will line up next to Antonio "Mookie" Johnson, who looks to have a starting position locked down for the season, as he is reportedly is in favor with general manager Bill Polian.

Muir will need to show that he is not only capable of holding the line and filling rushing lanes but that he can help collapse the pocket, generate some pressure on Jaguars quarterback David Gerrard, and warrant the addition of his size to the defensive tackle rotation.

When Ed Johnson returns to the lineup, it could be Muir who is sent packing. More importantly, if the Colts hope to start off the season with a victory, the interior defensive linemen will need to keep Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings from pounding the ball forward for clock-eating long drives.

Additionally, while the Colts have focused on getting larger on the defensive line, they have attempted to retain speed and athleticism. Muir will need to show they chose wisely when they retained him over a smaller player like Adrian Grady.

4. LB Tyjuan Hagler: This is a big opportunity for Hagler to permanently re-insert himself on the roster as a starter.


After winning his job back, Hagler will look for a good performance vs. Jacksonville
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Hagler was penciled in as the starting strongside linebacker to begin the 2008 season, only to suffer a pectoral injury while lifting weights which held him out for the start of the season and allowed Clint Session to step into the role. Session never relinquished his hold on a starting spot and Hagler watched from the sidelines.

After allowing Hagler to enter free agency following the 2008 season, the Colts signed him to a one-year deal. While he did not dominate in the preseason, Philip Wheeler did not do enough to solidify his spot as a starter and now Hagler will enter the 2009 season as he had hoped to enter 2008.

He will need to play a solid game, tackle well, stop runs in the hole, and show that he is not a pass-coverage liability if he hopes to keep his job long-term. With the Jaguars' history of running the ball, this will be no small task.

5. Special Teams: Usually, these stories will cover only individual players to watch for the upcoming game. This story will be different because the preseason left so many question marks with the Colts special teams.

Head Coach Jim Caldwell sent Russ Purnell packing and brought in a fiery replacement, Ray Rychleski. Then, to take it a step further, the Colts cut some players which surprised fans (like long-time backup safety Matt Giordano) and have added two players specifically for their special teams abilities.

The coverage units will have to show that S Aaron Francisco and LB Cody Glenn were wise additions to the special teams units who are capable of improving on a dismal average starting position for opposing offenses from a year ago. The Colts have also retained Chad Simpson and T.J. Rushing, primarily for their return abilities.

Both players will need to show that they are capable of filling their roles competently, improving the Colts average offensive starting position.

This area of the team is a big question mark and some of those questions should be answered on Sunday.


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