Rookie Jamey Richard (#61) has caught the attention of some people
Contrast our team with Jacksonville. The Jaguars have been decimated with injuries to their offensive line, one injury was the tragic (but thankfully not fatal) shooting of Richard Collier. But, for much of the season, the Jags have played without their starting interior linemen. The results are a stagnant running game, and putrid offense, and a 4-8 record. Now, look at the Colts. For much of the year, they have played without the best center in football (Jeff Saturday) and have not had their best guard (Ryan Lilja) at all throughout the year. Last year's other starting OG, Jake Scott, left via free agency and plays for a division rival. So, like the Jags, the Colts have played much of the 2008 without their starting interior linemen from the previous year. The results have been an inconsistent running game, but not a bad team. Currently, the Colts are one of the best pass blocking teams in football, and when their backs have been healthy, they've run the ball effectively.
The reason Indy has been able to stem the tide of injuries on the o-line has been the excellent play of rookies Jamey Richard and Mike Pollak, and shake n bake's Mecca of stats goodness (Football Outsiders) has taken notice.
Let's be honest about these rookies before we shower them with praise: They were awful to start the season. In both the Bears and Vikings games, opposing defenders lived in our team's backfield and Peyton was taking a lot of hits. Pollak, who played very inconsistently in preseason, was annoyingly injured during this stretch. He'd also lost the starting job (which had practically been handed to him the day he was drafted) to Charlie Johnson, a tackle converted to guard. Richard, meanwhile, had to step into starting at center, and he clearly did not know all the line calls the center needs to make in this offense. This forced Peyton to make both the line and skill position audibles, resulting in some very shaky offense to start the season.
But, after this little trial by fire, these two rookies have really come into their own. Without them, this team would have Jacksonville's record right now.
FO took particular interest in how Jamey Richard played this past Sunday against one of the better playing DTs in the league now, Cleveand's Shaun Rogers:
Richard has a nice "dropback" in pass-blocking; there was a short pass over the middle to Addai with five minutes left in the first quarter where he held the point very well on a double-team of Rogers with Johnson. That play took time to develop, and Richard took the furious charge to his left and back again, as Addai slipped through the hole he made. One advantage I saw early on for Richard was that he comes up from the snap and gets in blocking position as quickly as any center I've recently seen. This prevented him from getting overwhelmed by Rogers' initial attack, which is quickest at his position in the NFL.
Clearly, Richard has been the most impressive of the rookie linemen, and he was drafted the latest (7th round). This is yet another lesson to draft gurus: Every position in the draft is important, and you can no longer afford to bust even seventh rounders, let alone first or second rounders. This past draft, Bill Polian was prophetic in stocking up on linemen. Why?
Perhaps Bill Polian felt ready to stockpile depth under [Jeff] Saturday; of the six centers selected in the 2008 draft, three went to the Colts: second-rounder Mike Pollak of Arizona State, who played right guard against the Browns; sixth-rounder Steve Justice of Wake Forest; and Richard, the former Buffalo Bulls standout. Rated by more than one analyst as a sleeper with pro potential, Richard caught on quickly at the next level.
So, while we wait for Jeff Saturday to heal, we have a pretty good rookie center developing and handling things very well.