We were all a bit shocked when the in March, released their best interior offensive linemanRyan Lilja.
Since 2003, Lilja has been the stalwart at the guard spot, and the team's unquestioned best at that spot. He was also a classic Howard Mudd-type player: Sub-300 pounder, quick feet, technically proficient, and tough-minded. But, with Mudd now retired, it seems reasonably certain that Lilja did not fit in with the plans new offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars has in store for the Colts in 2010.
I mean, you don't just cut good linemen for no damn good reason whatsoever unless they either clash with the coach or don't fit a new philosophy.
Almost immediately after Lilja was cut, he was scooped up by the Kansas City Chiefs, the team he initially played for prior to joining the Colts in 2003. The story goes that back in Tony Dungy's second season with the Colts as head coach, then-Chiefs President Carl Peterson accidentally cut Lilja following training camp. The move really pissed off Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, or so the story goes. The Colts made a claim for Lilja, picked him up, and he started almost immediately.
It's worth noting that the Colts beat the Chiefs that season in the playoffs due in large part to their offensive line dominating the Chiefs d-line. I'm sure that pissed of Coach Vermeil too.
Today, Andy Alleman is Ryan Lilja's replacement, for all intents and purposes. Alleman was a member of the before-mentioned Kansas City Chiefs last year, but when the 2009 season concluded the team opted not to tender the 6'4, 302 pound guard. The Chiefs had traded with the Miami Dolphins to pick up Alleman. Prior to the Dolphins, he was a third round pick of the New Orleans Saints. The Colts represent Alleman's fourth team in four years. Right now, he is at a crossroads in his career, and he knows it.
The bottom line is Alleman must win a spot on this Colts roster or his professional football career as a player could be over.
The good news for Alleman is that he is on a team that promoted open competition for starting roster spots. They also just so happen to have two HUGE, GLARING HOLES at the offensive guard spots. On the roster right now are nine players who can play the position, including former starting left tackle Tony Ugoh (who the Colts starting using at guard during OTAs).
In order for Alleman to stand out from this very crowded group of interior lineman, he must show a "nasty side" as a blocker, especially on running downs.
Despite strong emphasis on the run last year, and three very good running backs (including two first round picks), the Colts were awful running the ball. I made all kinds of excuses last season for this, focusing mostly on the running backs because that was the area everyone seemed to think the problem was coming from. The truth was the line blocking was awful. The Colts were second-to-last in football with a 3.5 yards-per-run average and dead last with an 81 yards a game average.
With a passing offense that features a four-time MVP quarterback and the best WR corps in football, an inability to run the ball more than 4 yards a carry is simply not acceptable. Thus, all the changes on the o-line this year.
The problem Alleman faces is that he doesn't seem to be all that good opening holes along the d-line. While he has not played in Indy's system before, while with the Chiefs he ranked -5.1 as a run blocker, according to Pro Football Focus. His only good game last year seemed to be against the Browns, where he played all 73 offensive snaps and did a solid job in run blocking. Chiefs back Jamal Charles ran for 154 yards on 25 carries that day. Not bad.
Of course, the Chiefs defense surrendered over 286 yards and 3 TDs to Browns runningback Jerome Harrison, but that's obviously not Alleman's fault. If you watch the highlights of the game, you see some pretty good blocking by Alleman, especially on the long TD run by Charles.
It's a very crowded field for the two starting guard spots, and in that field are recent draft picks Mike Pollak, Jacques McClendon, and Jaimie Thomas. There's also last year's starter, Kyle DeVan, who likely has no intention for going back to Arena II football after starting in Super Bowl 44. If Alleman wants to beat out these guys for a starting spot, which he likely needs to do in order to stay on this team, he's got to destroy blockers at the point of attack during camp and pre-season.