Season in Review: Offensive Line

There were some new faces along the offensive line for the Colts in 2009, but the unit was ultimately productive. Brad Keller takes a look at the season that was along the offensive line, and what to look for as the team moves forward into a post-Howard Mudd era.

Season in Review:

Starters — Charlie Johnson, Ryan Lilja, Jeff Saturday, Kyle DeVan, Ryan Diem. Backups — Tony Ugoh, Jamey Richard, Mike Pollak, Michael Toudouze.

Ugoh and Johnson entered the season in an open competition for the left tackle job, which Johnson won outright. Johnson missed four games during the 2009 season and Ugoh started in his place, performing well enough that there wasn't a big drop-off, but not well enough to reclaim his job.

Pollak was replaced by DeVan as the starting right guard following a poor start by Pollak that culminated in an abysmal showing against the 49ers in Week 9. Pollak didn't see the starting lineup for the rest of the season and DeVan was able to step right in, making a smooth transition out of what could have been a problematic midseason change.

Lilja returned from injury to start every game that mattered during the regular and postseason and Diem was solid and consistent on the right side. Saturday nearly departed via free agency last offseason, but signed a two year deal with the Colts at the 11th hour. He was once again the quarterback of the offensive line, helping Peyton Manning with line calls and blocking adjustments, which is something the offense was sorely missing when Saturday missed the first four games of the 2008 season.

Strengths:

This unit plays together well and Indianapolis finally seems to have found a combination of linemen that complement each other, as well as a group that communicates on the fly and can adjust to a play change at the line of scrimmage. As with everything the Colts do on offense, it came down to execution this year along the offensive line and Howard Mudd once again turned in a solid coaching effort, bringing a number of moving parts together to form a cohesive whole.

Once DeVan was promoted to a starting role, Indianapolis was able to keep the same five starting linemen together for the balance of the season and everyone is under contract for 2010, so that continuity will help them to grow and succeed as a unit. Manning was sacked only 13 times during the regular season and only twice in the playoffs — with both sacks coming in the first quarter of the AFC Championship game against the Jets.

Pass protection continues to be a strength of this group and they should only improve with more time together and more opportunities to refine their games.

Needs Improvement:

Although it wasn't entirely the line's fault, the Colts still finished last in the league in rushing in 2009 and did not look dominant at the point of attack at any point during the season. After "third and two" became such an important part of what this team was trying to build during the 2009 offseason, it was surprising to see Indianapolis abandon the running game entirely during the regular season and for the most part in the postseason.

Even when the team showed glimpses of a commitment to the run, the results were very mixed and the Colts also finished 30th in the league in yards per rushing attempt. This kind of commitment needs to go from the top of the organization down and, ultimately, the players need to execute. They have another offseason to mull things over and re-dedicate themselves to the idea, but it eventually needs to materialize into actual production.

Pollak and Ugoh give the team some semblance of depth, but they're also players that weren't deemed good enough to be starters. At some point, Indianapolis is going to need to make a decision on the futures of these two young men and decide whether they want to give them another chance (not likely), keep them as backups (only slightly more likely), or let them go once suitable replacements are found (most likely). So, since they are lame-duck players, their value can only be so great, even as reserves.

What's Next?

As stated above, a decision needs to be reached regarding the futures of Pollak and Ugoh. Pollak took a pretty steep dive down the depth chart and may yet be salvageable, but DeVan played exceptionally well from the moment he was inserted into the lineup.

Ugoh's days are probably numbered, though, and Johnson will most likely get a contract extension if the collective bargaining agreement is renegotiated. That leaves at least Ugoh's spot in need of filling and, despite the fact that he has hung on with the team for quite some time, Toudouze is not exactly a top-flight backup.

The free agency market is fairly barren, but there will always be good depth available as teams shed veterans with high price tags in order to get under the cap and/or clear a spot for a rising young star. The Colts should be able to pick up a veteran for the NFL minimum at some point, but they'll most likely want to pick up a younger player with more upside — and already have one in the running in Gerald Cadogan. A late offseason signing of a veteran interior lineman or tackle seems unlikely, but it certainly could happen if the Colts find themselves to be backed into a corner.

Bill Polian will always look to re-stock the cabinets with young talent through the draft and college free agents, but it is very doubtful that he will spend another high-round selection on an offensive lineman given his recent failures with Ugoh and Pollak and his recent successes with DeVan and Johnson.

Smart teams always draft the player, not the past, and the Colts are a smart team, but the front office probably won't be able to shake the feeling that they will be better served by taking a late round or undrafted player and fitting him into the system instead of trying to draft someone that is an ideal fit.

Finally, keep an eye on who will be coaching this unit in 2010, as long-time offensive line coach Howard Mudd plans to retire. It's most likely that assistant Pete Metzelaars will take his place, but the Colts have yet to make an announcement regarding Mudd's replacement.


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Ugoh and Johnson entered the season in an open competition for the left tackle job, which Johnson won outright. Johnson missed four games during the 2009 season and Ugoh started in his place, performing well enough that there wasn't a big drop-off, but not well enough to reclaim his job.

Pollak was replaced by DeVan as the starting right guard following a poor start by Pollak that culminated in an abysmal showing against the 49ers in Week 9. Pollak didn't see the starting lineup for the rest of the season and DeVan was able to step right in, making a smooth transition out of what could have been a problematic midseason change.

Lilja returned from injury to start every game that mattered during the regular and postseason and Diem was solid and consistent on the right side. Saturday nearly departed via free agency last offseason, but signed a two year deal with the Colts at the 11th hour. He was once again the quarterback of the offensive line, helping Peyton Manning with line calls and blocking adjustments, which is something the offense was sorely missing when Saturday missed the first four games of the 2008 season.

This unit plays together well and Indianapolis finally seems to have found a combination of linemen that complement each other, as well as a group that communicates on the fly and can adjust to a play change at the line of scrimmage. As with everything the Colts do on offense, it came down to execution this year along the offensive line and Howard Mudd once again turned in a solid coaching effort, bringing a number of moving parts together to form a cohesive whole.

Once DeVan was promoted to a starting role, Indianapolis was able to keep the same five starting linemen together for the balance of the season and everyone is under contract for 2010, so that continuity will help them to grow and succeed as a unit. Manning was sacked only 13 times during the regular season and only twice in the playoffs — with both sacks coming in the first quarter of the AFC Championship game against the Jets.

Pass protection continues to be a strength of this group and they should only improve with more time together and more opportunities to refine their games.

Although it wasn't entirely the line's fault, the Colts still finished last in the league in rushing in 2009 and did not look dominant at the point of attack at any point during the season. After \"third and two\" became such an important part of what this team was trying to build during the 2009 offseason, it was surprising to see Indianapolis abandon the running game entirely during the regular season and for the most part in the postseason.

Even when the team showed glimpses of a commitment to the run, the results were very mixed and the Colts also finished 30th in the league in yards per rushing attempt. This kind of commitment needs to go from the top of the organization down and, ultimately, the players need to execute. They have another offseason to mull things over and re-dedicate themselves to the idea, but it eventually needs to materialize into actual production.

Pollak and Ugoh give the team some semblance of depth, but they're also players that weren't deemed good enough to be starters. At some point, Indianapolis is going to need to make a decision on the futures of these two young men and decide whether they want to give them another chance (not likely), keep them as backups (only slightly more likely), or let them go once suitable replacements are found (most likely). So, since they are lame-duck players, their value can only be so great, even as reserves.

As stated above, a decision needs to be reached regarding the futures of Pollak and Ugoh. Pollak took a pretty steep dive down the depth chart and may yet be salvageable, but DeVan played exceptionally well from the moment he was inserted into the lineup.

Ugoh's days are probably numbered, though, and Johnson will most likely get a contract extension if the collective bargaining agreement is renegotiated. That leaves at least Ugoh's spot in need of filling and, despite the fact that he has hung on with the team for quite some time, Toudouze is not exactly a top-flight backup.

The free agency market is fairly barren, but there will always be good depth available as teams shed veterans with high price tags in order to get under the cap and/or clear a spot for a rising young star. The Colts should be able to pick up a veteran for the NFL minimum at some point, but they'll most likely want to pick up a younger player with more upside — and already have one in the running in Gerald Cadogan. A late offseason signing of a veteran interior lineman or tackle seems unlikely, but it certainly could happen if the Colts find themselves to be backed into a corner.

Bill Polian will always look to re-stock the cabinets with young talent through the draft and college free agents, but it is very doubtful that he will spend another high-round selection on an offensive lineman given his recent failures with Ugoh and Pollak and his recent successes with DeVan and Johnson.

Smart teams always draft the player, not the past, and the Colts are a smart team, but the front office probably won't be able to shake the feeling that they will be better served by taking a late round or undrafted player and fitting him into the system instead of trying to draft someone that is an ideal fit.

Finally, keep an eye on who will be coaching this unit in 2010, as long-time offensive line coach Howard Mudd plans to retire. It's most likely that assistant Pete Metzelaars will take his place, but the Colts have yet to make an announcement regarding Mudd's replacement.

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