Colts take familiar approach to NFL draft

The Indianapolis Colts want to spend this week protecting their
big investment, Peyton Manning.

In past years, they’ve drafted receivers, tight ends, even
running backs to give the four-time league MVP more options on the
field. Now they have a new mission to get Manning a second Super
Bowl ring: Fixing the aging offensive line.

”We have gotten older at some positions, and we are in the
process of trying to meld that together,” general manager Chris
Polian. ”There have been injury problems, there have been
misevaluations.”

And the holes have become glaring.

Manning still ranks among the league leaders in fewest sacks,
but he’s taking more big hits each season – not an ideal situation
for a 35-year-old quarterback who is likely to become the
highest-paid player in league history.

Indy hasn’t produced a 1,000-yard runner since 2008, and the
inability to convert short-yardage plays, vice chairman Bill Polian
contends, cost them a second Super Bowl title after the 2009
season. The Colts have rotated guards, tried to put a successor to
Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday in place and moved Charlie Johnson to
left tackle after the botched experiment with Tony Ugoh.

”Obviously, (Ugoh) is not here and that did not work out and
that has set us back,” Chris Polian said.

Nothing has worked and so armed with the No. 22 overall pick
Thursday night, the Colts hope some young blood can change
things.

Most analysts expect at least one tackle with a first-round
grade to be available at that spot. The most common names mentioned
are Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi and Colorado’s Nate Solder. Indy may
also consider Baylor guard Danny Watkins and Mississippi State
tackle Derek Sherrod.

The obvious choice is not necessarily the right one.

”If the need line crosses with the composite (grade), great,
then make the pick,” Bill Polian said. ”But if you’re passing a
player with a higher composite grade to take a need, my experience
is that it doesn’t work out very well.”

Instead, Polian, the architect of Buffalo’s four straight Super
Bowl teams and the Colts, will keep it business as usual. He will
consider value and need before trying to build a consensus among
the four voters in Indy’s draft room.

Chris Polian confirmed Friday that the team has worked out some
quarterbacks this offseason though the explanation is a bit
different than speculation suggests.

Some believe the Colts are positioning themselves to find a
replacement for Manning, who has not yet signed a deal that will
top more than $18 million per season and could run as long as six
years.

With most first-round picks locked into five-year deals – and
the possibility that becomes the league standard in a new
collective bargaining agreement – it wouldn’t make sense to take
Manning’s eventual successor now.

But Chris Polian wants information on the quarterbacks in this
year’s draft class in his files.

”The college scouting report is always carried over with the
players and we just felt with where we had guys on the board and
where we were at, it was important to take part and have some
information available to us,” he said.

Where else might the Colts look for help?

They could have holes at running back, safety and linebacker.
Joseph Addai, Melvin Bullitt and Clint Session, all starters, will
become free agents when the lockout ends and it’s unclear whether
the Colts will be able to re-sign all three in what figures to be a
wild sprint to the regular season.

Another complication will be the inability to sign undrafted
free agents immediately after the draft, something Indy has relied
on to get low-priced talent in place. Bullitt and running back
Dominic Rhodes typify the big talents Indy has found once the draft
ends.

But even with all the uncertainties over the lockout, the roster
and where the biggest holes might exist, the Colts intend to stick
to their usual draft weekend game plan.

”We’ve spent over $1 million and a lot of time and energy on
establishing the board, and as (former player personnel director)
Dom Anile used to say, if you don’t let the board speak to you on
draft day, you really haven’t exercised your chance to succeed,”
Bill Polian said. ”We’re not infallible, we make mistakes, fate’s
going to intervene. It’s not an exact science, in fact, it’s not
even a science.

”You say ‘Hey, get a good player everywhere, anywhere and it
will help.”’