TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -– Forget about this back-to-back stuff in Indianapolis. There's only one back that matters with the Colts, and it belongs to Peyton Manning. The question, of course, is: Who's watching it?
|Charlie Johnson might get the job if Tony Ugoh falters in training camp. (AP)|
That's pronounced "U-Go," which the Colts hope Tony does. Only one problem: He's a rookie. That's right, folks. No pro starts, no game experience and lots of questions.
So let's start asking:
1. Should the Colts be worried?
"No," said team president Bill Polian. "Charlie's very unflappable. Just a sound, solid guy. Ugoh has outstanding ability and a nice, easy-going, level personality, too. I think he'll be fine. Either one will work out."
For the moment, Ugoh has the edge. The Colts coveted him in this year's draft -– more so than tackle Joe Staley whom San Francisco chose in the first round –- and targeted Ugoh after locking down wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez with the 32nd pick.
"Do you want to think about moving up to get him if he's still available?" Chris Polian, the team's vice president of football operations, asked his father then.
|One man vs. One fan|
jvh4: "Will Manning overcoming the criticism of not being able to win the big games relieve the pressure and allow him to perform better, or will the lack of drive ... cause a slight decline? "
"Absolutely," said Dad.
It wasn't long after that the Colts swung a deal with San Francisco, trading away their first choice in the 2008 draft for the University of Arkansas lineman. The Colts envisioned Ugoh as a potential starter, and, with Glenn set to become a free agent in 2008, the Polians figured they had to protect themselves at the position.
Then Glenn retired.
2. Can a rookie jump in there and not be a liability?
Sure, it happened last season with San Diego. The Chargers plugged second-round draft pick Marcus McNeill in at left tackle and he wound up having a Pro Bowl season. OK, I know he wasn't chosen to the Pro Bowl, but if you speak to anyone who watched the Chargers they'll tell you McNeill was the team's best offensive lineman.
Besides, Ugoh doesn't have to step in. Remember, the Colts have Johnson, and though you might not remember him, he played three quarters in Super Bowl XLI and did just fine.
"We played with (Makoa) Freitas when Tarik was hurt in 2003, and we didn't miss a beat offensively," said coach Tony Dungy. "We moved the ball and scored points.
|Out of Nowhere Man|
|RB Clifton Dawson|
|Though DeDe Dorsey is the frontrunner for the No. 2 spot at running back, don't rule out rookie Clifton Dawson. "He has a chance," said team president Bill Polian. OK, so the odds are against Dawson. He was undrafted and he played at Harvard -- not exactly considered a football factory. But Dawson is special. He broke Ed Marinaro's Ivy League career-rushing record and is determined to convince the Colts that he should stay. "If you make it at this level you clearly have the ability to play here," he said. "But it's the little things that matter, like studying when you're not required to study or how much you're willing to listen and take mental notes when you're not in the ballgame. That's something I think I really excel in. Four years at Harvard taught me to listen and study, and those are things that could me make the team."|
| '06 Rewind: DB Antoine Bethea |
On the road from nowhere: If there's one thing Polian does, it's find late-round gems. Add Howard product Bethea to that category. In 14 games the defensive back stole the strong safety job from Mike Doss, racked up 90 tackles and picked off a pass.
|Who is your Out of Nowhere Man?|
"Our system is such that we practice that way. We practice with a lot of guys over there. So when we went into the Super Bowl, and Charlie Johnson had to play right tackle against their best defensive lineman, we didn't change anything. Charlie was ready to go, and that's the way we do it."
3. But isn't there undue pressure on Ugoh?
After all, it's difficult enough to start as a rookie at his position. But to be the last line of defense to the franchise quarterback? Doesn't that make the learning curve enormously steep -- especially for someone who didn't do a whole lot of pass blocking in college?
Well, yeah. But Ugoh isn't overwhelmed at what's ahead. When I stopped by the Colts' training camp, he was the last offensive linemen into the locker room -- spending time after the morning workout in a golf cart with offensive line coach Howard Mudd as the two dissected Ugoh's work.
"He knows I'm a very technical guys and a perfectionist," Ugoh said of Mudd. "I try to get everything perfect. But he also knows I can't do all of it at one time. No one can. So my main focus is to focus on one thing per day and stick with it. It's advice I've gotten before, but, basically, it's just going out there and doing it."
Both Dungy and Polian are confident in Ugoh, which is one reason they're unconcerned with the change. But the bigger -- and better -- explanation for their optimism is that they believe in their system as much as they believe in Tony Ugoh -- or Charlie Johnson. And the system perseveres.
The envelope, please. Since Dungy took over in 2002, the Colts are 60-20, with four straight AFC South titles, two AFC Championship Game appearances and one Super Bowl.
"We've had to replace a lot of guys," Dungy said. "When Edgerrin James left people said, 'There goes the running game.' When I first got here Jerome Pathon left, and (the question) was: What are they going to do for a third receiver? The world was coming to an end.
"I knew who Jerome Pathon was, but I didn't know the world was coming to an end when he left. And it didn't."
|RB Joseph Addai|
|Jamey Eisenberg's take: Addai enters this season as the Colts' No. 1 RB now that Dominic Rhodes is in Oakland. As a rookie last year, Addai had 1,081 yards rushing, seven touchdowns and caught 40 passes for 325 yards and a score. He is a complete RB and will play the Edgerrin James-role in this explosive offense. Addai must prove he can handle the load, but there's no reason to think he can't deal with the increased carries. Consider Addai a No. 1 RB worth drafting in the first round.|
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The Colts will miss Glenn's leadership and experience, but they should be all right if and when Ugoh takes over. Most draft boards ranked him no worse than the third best tackle, and he played on the left side in college. Plus, if he struggles, Johnson can keep the position warm until Ugoh is ready to step in.
"He'll be fine," said defensive end Dwight Freeney. "But let's say he isn't ready -- and I'm not saying he won't be -- but, if that happened, I'm sure Howard (Mudd) and (offensive coordinator) Tom Moore will have all sorts of wrinkles to throw in there and still be efficient on offense."
That goes back to what Dungy said. There is a formula that works here, and it withstands personnel changes. It can again.
Whether it will is another matter, but history is on the Colts' side. So is Ugoh's attitude. When I asked him what makes him think he step in immediately and do the job he laughed.
"Praying," he said.
"About what?" I asked.
"Everything and anything," he said.