Not long ago, Deshawn Zombie said this about the NFL off-season:
With all due respect to the good guys over at Stampedeblue.com (who I enjoy), I'm not interesting in parsing out who will be the 5th receiver. I'm not curious to see who makes the roster. I'm only very mildly interested in who wins the right guard slot. These things are nice distractions, I guess, but they aren't very satisfying. I'm ready for football season.
Now, I'm not re-quoting this to bash Desmond or anything. I inserted it to push a point (a point Deshawn likely agrees with): We Colts fans are very lucky that the big question mark heading into training camp is who will win the starting OG spot. One could argue that, with Tyjuan Hagler's moronic injury, that the starting SAM backer is now a top priority. But, despite the need to find someone early in the season to replace Hagler, the fact is this team is built around the offense. This team must get back to running the football with two running backs, and it must do a better job protecting Peyton Manning. Therefore, for me, OG is still the priority.
Back in April, the Colts used their first pick in the 2008 draft (Round Two) to take Arizona State's Mike Pollak. Pollak played OC, but after drafting him, Bill Polian made it clear Pollak was shifting to OG. During rookie and veteran minicamps, Pollak worked at OG along with three year vet Charlie Johnson, a guy whose play has been so up and down you'd think he had a yo-yo tied around his neck. Both Pollak and Johnson are competing for the starting OG spot, and both have the tools necessary to play well there.
But make no mistake, I don't care if Pollak is a rookie. He better beat out Johnson, because if he doesn't then Bill Polian wasted his first pick in 2008.
After minicamp back in May, the buzz about Pollak was very good. He's a smart kid with toughness; the kind of guy Howard Mudd loves to coach. Go back to Pollak's scouting reports, and a few key traits jump out consistently:
Perhaps the strongest and toughest blocker in the Pac-10 Conference, the Sun Devils relied on the leader of their line to stabilize the offense up front...
Plays on his feet and uses his hands effectively to redirect the defender with authority...
All-out battler in one-on-one situations and has a good grasp of the playbook, making all of the blocking calls up front...Good team leader whose work ethic is emulated by the squad's younger players...
It seems that the key to winning the job, which now seems to be Pollak's to lose, is how well the OG run blocks. This is not to diminish the importance of pass blocking. Last year, likely as a result of numerous injuries to the o-line all season, Peyton Manning was sacked 23 times. The year before that, when they won the Super Bowl, they allowed an NFL low 15 sacks. But it was not pass blocking that stalled the Colts offense against the SD Chargers in the playoffs. It was a lack of a running game.
Bill Polian made it clear after the draft that the Colts now have the kind of depth they desire on the o-line to get back to running the ball with authority. Polian knows that if you give Peyton a running game, he will kill the opponent every. single. time. Pollak seems to have the skills needed to run block for Indy, but what about Charlie Johnson? Charlie has taken over Dylan Gandy's old roll as jack-of-all-trades o-lineman. If needed, Charlie could play four o-line positions. However, despite Charlie's excellent rookie season, which saw him step in early in the Super Bowl and stone the Bears Alex Brown all game long, Charlie struggled in 2007. Speed rushers gave Charlie fits. Rosevelt Colvin introduced himself to Charlie in the fourth quarter of the Pats v. Colts game last year, blowing right by him in route to a sack and forced fumble on Peyton.
Converting Charlie to OG allows him to work on his strengths and, potentially, grow in one position. With the Colts investing in young OTs Tony Ugoh, Michael Toudouze, and Dan Federkeil (who is returning from injury last season), Charlie is not needed as a primary back-up. Charlie's a tough guy and a hard worker. So, his tenacity should not be underestimated by anyone. He wants to start, and wants to dominate.
As many of you know, I LOVE training camp competitions. They are vital to making your team better. The training camp battle between Jason David and Marlin Jackson in 2006 made both players better, and as a result the pass defense for the Champs that year was dominant. Pollak and Johnson should have the same spirited level of friendly competition. In the end, it will make them, and the team, better.
ESPN's Hashmarks blog had this to say recently about Mike Pollak:
So who stands to make the biggest impact among AFC South rookies?
In Indianapolis, if Mike Pollak beats out veteran Charlie Johnson in the battle to replace free agent departure Jake Scott, he could be a big contributor. No, right guard isn't left tackle, but remember how nicely the team slid Tony Ugoh into retired Tarik Glenn's spot as a rookie, a year ahead of the plan?