To call OG Ryan Lilja's injury status heading into the 2009 "important" is a bit of an understatement. Quite simply, Lilja's health might be THE key to the Colts having a championship caliber season. Obviously, there are other key people on this team that have more "star appeal," like Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney, and others. But as important as those players are to Indy getting to the playoffs, Lilja is as important to the Colts winning another ring.
With a healthy Ryan Lilja and Jeff Saturday, the Colts were one of the best rushing teams in football in 2007. With Saturday missing several games in 2008, and Lilja missing the entire 2008 season, the Colts ranked 31st in rushing the ball. Since January, news about Lilja's health has not seemed encouraging. The Colts drafted another OG (Jaimie Thomas) and signed two more offensive linemen who can play multiple positions: Kyle DeVan and Brandon Jones. Both players were signed to two year deals, indicating these guys might be a bit more than just camp fodder. Indy also has promising second year guards Mike Pollak and Jamey Richard. That's five players, three of them new, in addition to Charlie Johnson, who can play all line spots save center.
Not exactly a glittering endorsement for Lilja's healthy return.
However, despite these dark clouds looming over Ryan Lilja's career, today we got our first real news about how Lilja is progressing. Thankfully, the news is very, VERY good. Here's John Oehser:
A major story of the Indianapolis Colts’ 2009 offseason took a step forward Tuesday morning, with veteran offensive guard Ryan Lilja participating in the no-pads, no-contact practice at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
Lilja, a six-year veteran and a starter from 2004-2008, missed last season with a knee injury for which he has undergone three surgeries, but Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said Tuesday Lilja "appears to be coming along very well:"
He’s making good progress. He feels he is certainly a lot further along than he has been. They’re starting to do things with him little by little. He’s increasing his activity.
Asked if he was optimistic Lilja would be ready for training camp, Caldwell replied "the way things are going right now, it looks pretty good:"
I'm not sure, but I don't think Lilja participated in any OTAs last year. So, since Lilja is indeed participating and looking "pretty good" out there doing so, that is a major step in a positive direction for his career. The health of the offensive line is paramount in 2009. A healthy interior coupled with the addition of Donald Brown makes this Colts offense look very good.