Notebook: Offensive Tackle a Priority?

Heading into the 2011 National Football League draft, offensive tackle would appear to be near the top of the list in terms of priorities for the Indianapolis Colts.

While left offensive tackle is probably the top need for the Colts since the Tony Ugoh experiment didn't pan out, finding an eventual successor to starting right offensive tackle Ryan Diem is also on the minds of the team's personnel department.

Charlie Johnson, who will be entering his sixth season in the league, has filled in admirably at left tackle the last couple of seasons since replacing Ugoh in the starting lineup. Johnson has played both offensive tackle positions as well as offensive guard since being selected in the sixth round of the 2006 draft.

His natural position, though, is inside at offensive guard. If the Colts can't find a future left offensive tackle in this year's draft, Johnson will most likely stay put for the time being. Also in the mix at the moment is second-year offensive tackle Jeff Linkenbach, who filled in for Johnson in one game last year.

Ugoh started as a rookie in 2007, taking over the vacancy that was left by the unexpected retirement of former Pro Bowler Tarik Glenn. The original idea was for Ugoh to be Glenn's primary understudy for a year or two and then eventually take over the position.

But that never happened. Ugoh battled up-and-down play and an array of injuries that hampered his effectiveness. He was eventually replaced by Johnson and tried to make the transition inside to offensive guard during training camp last year. That didn't pan out either and he was released early in the 2010 season.

Another thing to consider is that Johnson — who saw considerable playing time as a rookie at three offensive line positions — is a prospective free agent who may or may not be offered a long-term deal at some point.

With the 22nd overall pick in the first round, Indianapolis should have a chance at some of the top offensive tackles coming out this year. Colorado's Nate Solder, Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, Southern California's Tyron Smith and Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod are the top left tackle candidates.

Boston College's Anthony Castonzo is also a possibility, although some NFL scouts envision Castonzo more as a right offensive tackle prospect. Several recent mock drafts had the Colts taking Solder, who — along with Smith and Sherrod — may very well be the most athletic of the left tackle prospects available this year.

Diem is entering his 11th year in the league and began to show some signs of wear and tear in 2010. He was backed up last year by Michael Toudouze, a former fifth-round pick by the Colts in 2006 who has bounced between the regular-season roster and the practice squad the last five years, and former Baltimore Ravens free agent Joe Reitz.

There are four or five quality offensive tackles who merit first-round attention. It's time to really pay attention to that area, especially with Peyton Manning's career entering the home stretch.

NOTES, QUOTES

— As part of their preseason schedule, the Colts will play a nationally televised game against Green Bay on CBS Friday, Aug. 26.

— The Colts released safety Bob Sanders in February, but his larger-than-life picture remained on the outside of Lucas Oil Stadium. Until Wednesday, when workers began removing the 35-by-60-foot likeness.

Quarterback Peyton Manning is also depicted on the south side of the stadium, but a player won't replace Sanders. Instead, a large horseshoe will take his place.

Said Pete Ward, the team's chief operating officer, "There are so many players to consider. But you can't put everyone up there," noting that the horseshoe "is a team symbol that we feel is appropriate."

— General manager Bill Polian said his mindset entering the draft is that none of the team's free agents will be back.

Explained Polian, "I think you have to go into the draft and say, 'Anybody who's out there is not coming back.' Now, that's for draft purposes. Don't misconstrue what I am saying. That's for purposes of evaluating players in the draft. We hope like the devil to get (safety) Melvin Bullitt back. I don't know if we will or we won't."

— Owner Jim Irsay is looking forward to signing QB Peyton Manning to a new deal when the opportunity presents itself.

"I know this, that the No. 1 dynamic is we want to get a long-term deal done for Peyton, offering him the highest contract that has ever been out there in the National Football League, past (New England QB Tom) Brady and all those sorts of things," Irsay said.

"He has a huge involvement. We are together on this legacy and this journey. Indianapolis, he has a great love for it here. We have great respect for each other. This has been a win-win thing for both of us, in terms of him being provided with great coaching and leadership in the franchise with Bill Polian, Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, etc."

— After a casual meeting with Rich Dunkle, a writer on the CBS television series "Criminal Minds," TE Dallas Clark will be moonlighting as an actor on the show. Dunkle is a central Indiana native and Colts fan who met Clark after last year's home game with Jacksonville.

Clark's appearance on "Criminal Minds" will be a brief one. But at least he comes out alive during the April 13 episode. "The first script had me getting killed," Clark said. "Rick (Dunkle) rewrote it and now I'm a detective."

— Lucas Oil Stadium will partially close to events for four months to replace rusted and corroded steel piping in the three-year-old structure. Taxpayers likely won't be responsible for the cost of replacing thousands of feet of piping.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got to get our work in, so definitely something will probably be done. We'll cross that bridge when it comes. But at the end of the day we're going to get our work done, we're going to stay on schedule. How, where, when, all that, that'll be determined. But we're going to treat this just like our regular offseason." — TE Dallas Clark on the possibility of Colts players having their own workouts despite the lockout.

DRAFT VISITS: DT Zach Clayton, QB Andy Dalton, LB Brooks Reed, OT Tyron Smith, OT Eric Stanley, DT Teryl White.


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