Poor game has Colts linemen seeking improvement

Aug 18, 2009 - 7:26 AM By MICHAEL MAROT AP Sports Writer

TERRE HAUTE, Ind.(AP) -- Longtime offensive line coach Howard Mudd has one goal for his final trip around the NFL: Get back to basics and play up to the Colts standards.

The Colts still have plenty of work to do after watching three-time league MVP Peyton Manning get sacked three times in six plays during Friday's preseason loss to Minnesota.

"A lot of the conversations about the problems were communication errors," three-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said Monday. "There were different things on the sacks and the pressures and we just can't play like that."

To be fair, the Colts were nowhere close to full strength.

Right tackle Ryan Diem sat out with a back injury and new left tackle Charlie Johnson was held out after having offseason shoulder surgery. Diem's replacement, Tony Ugoh, was playing in his first NFL game on the right side and most of the regulars left after the first series.

Johnson returned to practice Monday morning. Diem did not.

The Colts were facing one of the league's stronger defensive lines, but they still expected a better performance than this.

In addition to Manning going down, third-string quarterback Curtis Painter was sacked twice and forced to throw away several passes while under pressure. Undrafted rookie Chris Crane was sacked once, giving the Colts six sacks in 37 offensive plays.

Indy did average 5.5 yards per rush, a substantial improvement over last season's dismal 3.4 yards per carry.

The good news is that the preseason games don't count. The bad news: They've got three weeks to get it right.

"We saw some guys who were fairly young, in their first time out that didn't perform out of the blocks extremely well," Caldwell said after viewing the tapes. "But as time went on, they settled down and were able to come together and perform decently - not at the level we like, we had a few spurts here and there, we were not consistent enough."

Suddenly, the line has become a big deal in Indy.

After spending years in virtual anonymity, the way linemen prefer, the group charged with protecting Manning and opening holes for 1,000-yard runners is being heavily scrutinized after last season's struggles.

Saturday missed four games because of injuries, forcing rookie Jamey Richard to become the line's signal-caller. Guard Mike Pollak, Indy's top pick in the 2008 draft, was inactive for the first three games after having knee surgery. Ugoh was benched for three games and has now been replaced by Johnson.

The hits never seemed to stop. At times, the Colts played with three rookies, and it was Indy's inability to produce on two third-and-short situations at San Diego that led to the Colts' playoff ouster.

Back then, many contended the Colts were just young. Now, with experience, they're expected to improve.

"We did some good things," Pollak said of Friday's game. "But we let Peyton get hit too much. You've got to learn from it and move on, not dwell on the past. So guys are coming out this week looking to get better."

The next test comes Thursday against Philadelphia, a team known to blitz.

Caldwell and Saturday have already said the offensive line must get better. Mudd said they cannot accept mediocrity. Even team owner Jim Irsay called last season's results unacceptable.

So where do they go from here?

"Jeff and the older guys are used to having a dominant running game in the past and last year was very unsatisfactory," Pollak said. "This year, we're trying to make that an emphasis."

Without getting their franchise quarterback banged up.

"We can't have those types of plays," Saturday said. "But that's not Game 1."

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