Colts seeing improvement in sluggish ground game
Jim Caldwell has done just about everything to give the Colts' running game a tuneup.
Now he wants to see results.
After finishing the last two seasons ranked 32nd and 31st in yards rushing per game, there are finally signs of progress. In Thursday night's loss at Buffalo, four players had runs longer than 10 yards and the Colts averaged 4.7 per carry behind their makeshift offensive line.
No, they didn't win, but it is a start.
''I think you can see we ran the ball a little bit better,'' Caldwell said Friday. ''Joe (Addai) had a couple of nice runs, Donald (Brown) had a couple of nice runs, Devin (Moore) had a couple of nice runs. But we still have a long way to go.''
With four-time league MVP Peyton Manning in charge of the offense, the Colts will always be a pass-first team.
Given the results, it makes sense.
Indy's last two title runs were derailed because of an inability to convert short-yardage plays.
Twice in January 2009, the Colts had chances to put away the Chargers in a playoff game and twice they failed. San Diego wound up rallying to force overtime and then eliminated the Colts in Tony Dungy's final game.
Caldwell wasted no time putting his stamp on the team when training camp opened last year.
He announced that Charlie Johnson would replace Tony Ugoh at left tackle and then made a midseason change by moving Arena Football2 vet Kyle DeVan ahead of former second-round pick Mike Pollak at right guard.
The Colts responded by going 14-2 and winning the AFC title, but in the Super Bowl, the same old problem was back. When Indy failed to convert on third-and-1 late in the first half, New Orleans drove for a 44-yard field goal that cut the halftime lead to 10-6.
After the game, team president Bill Polian publicly criticized the offensive line and sent a clear message about what the Colts were going to do in the offseason - improve the ground game.
''There are things you have to do better,'' Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said this summer. ''Our goal is to be three-fourths of a yard better (rushing) than we were last year. You know it's always tough when you're the one getting criticized, but we have got to get better.''
Indy's overhaul began with the planned promotion of Pete Metzelaars to offensive line coach after Howard Mudd retired. Polian signed free agents Andy Alleman and Adam Terry in an effort to give the Colts' line more size, then tried to reinforce the unit by drafting guard Jacques McClendon in the fourth round and blocking tight end Brody Eldridge in the sixth.
How have all the changes worked? It's been a mixed bag.
Alleman was cut during the first week of training camp after hurting his back, Terry entered Thursday night's game midway through the second quarter and McClendon has been slowed by an undisclosed injury.
Indy's 3.5 yards-per-carry average in the first two preseason games matches last year's regular-season average, and Addai has scored Indy's only rushing touchdowns. But two starters - Johnson (sprained right foot) and Saturday (knee surgery) - have not played in either game, and DeVan was out Thursday with a hamstring injury.
So Caldwell is getting a good look at how some other guys might be able to help.
''They have handled themselves fairly well,'' Caldwell said. ''The pass protection was fairly solid. We ran the ball a lot better than the first week, and that's what we expect.''
Caldwell expects the progression to continue.
It's not as if the Colts offense can't produce proficient runners. Edgerrin James won NFL rushing titles in 1999 and 2000, behind Manning, and the Colts had three different 1,000-yard runners between 2000 and 2007.
Nor is it devoid of talent.
Saturday and Diem started when James was running and are still there, and Ugoh and Pollak are former second-round picks who Colts' coaches still believe in.
Addai, a first-round pick in 2006, opened his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons but failed to top 600 yards in 2008 and barely reached 800 last season. Brown, Indy's first-round pick in 2009, has battled injuries and averaged only 2.1 yards on nine carries in the preseason.
But to win a Super Bowl, Caldwell knows this: Indy's offense has to be running on all cylinders.
''I think you can certainly evaluate and make a comparison between last week and this week, and we got better,'' Caldwell said. ''That's our goal. We expect to be better than we were today.''