Colts Q&A: Ryan Lilja

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Colts starting offensive guard Ryan Lilja talks about Howard Mudd, the impact of filling in for Jeff Saturday at center last summer, why he had a chip on his shoulder at this time last year, and his goals for 2006 in this exclusive interview with ColtPower's Ed Thompson.

Q: How has (offensive line coach) Howard Mudd helped you improve as a lineman?

Ryan Lilja:  He rewrote the book on offensive line play in my mind. He does a lot of things differently, a lot of things I've never done -- and never even thought of doing. It's just his coaching style. He wants you to get it done his way, so when you're out there, he's more pleased if you get it done his way and you get beat, than if you do it some random way and win. So he's definitely got a different coaching style, but I've gained an awful lot from his coaching.

Q:  Towards the end of your rookie season you had a concussion. And I don't think most people understand what that does to a person outside of seeing them woozy on the sidelines right after it happens. How did that effect you physically until you recovered?

RL:  That was a game where I was supposed to go in and split time at right guard with Jake Scott. That was my first game playing special teams, and we went out on the kickoff return team and I got a pretty good lick on the guy, but I hit my head. And that was different, I had never had a concussion before. While walking around on the sidelines I just sort of felt like I didn't know what was going on. It was kind of scary to be honest with you. They held me out of practice for a little bit, but I ended up feeling healthy and got back in there.

Q: Last year during preseason, you filled in for Jeff Saturday at center. Was that fun, or did that sort of throw you out of whack for the preseason?

RL:  Jeff got hurt pretty early on, so I knew I was going to be playing center. Howard had told me he wanted me to play a little center during the preseason, which was a great opportunity for me to learn the position and gain that experience in case Jeff goes down during the season and we need someone to step up there. So it was good for me and for our offense, but it threw me off a little bit because I didn't play any guard during the preseason. Five preseason games, and once we get into the regular season I had to readjust, But it definitely helped me because the center orchestrates the line and kind of picks out the schemes and the pass pros. And that definitely helped me get a better grasp on our offense and protection schemes.

Q:  For a young offensive lineman, could you have it any better than to have Jeff Saturday on one side and Tarik Glenn on the other side?

RL:  I don't think you could. You know what? With some of the guys at Kansas City I thought this would be a great opportunity to be on the practice squad and learn from guys like Will Shields, Casey Wiegmann, Brian Waters, Willie Roaf, John Welbourne. And then I got to Indy and got thrown in there, and it's hard to mess up when you're playing in between two Pro Bowlers. So I'm definitely fortunate to be playing next to those guys.

Q:  Last year during mini-camp, Colts.com's John Oehser quoted you as saying that you were excited but a little worried about being named the starter at left guard. You're getting ready to start the process all over again. How much difference has a year made for Ryan Lilja?

RL:  Last year, going into a new season, Howard told me I was the guy going into the position. In the media, you could hear everything, people were talking about guys we brought in and who was going to play that position. And I knew that it was my spot to lose and Howard thought it was my spot to lose. Going in, I didn't want to be the weak link of our offensive line or our offense. So I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, I wanted to prove myself. And I think for the most part last year I improved and I gained a whole lot of experience and the game slowed itself down a little bit for me -- which is crucial. So it's going to be a lot different going into camp this year. I know what's going on, I want to learn more. I want to be a better student of the game. I want to be more vocal, I want to communicate more with some of our coaches and our quarterback, and not rely so much on the older guys.

Q:  I've got to tell you, after that quote came out, there was some chatter through the fan base wondering if this guy is nervous, is he going to be able to hold up. And after the year you had and just listening to you talk here, Ryan, you really project a good confidence about yourself.

RL:  Well, I appreciate it. I guarantee you, it hasn't always been like that. Coach Mudd is a real psychological guy who kind of analyzes guys. He's real cerebral, and he'll sit down and talk about your confidence. He'll talk about your attitude, your mindset and what you're thinking. He doesn't just focus on the physical aspect.

Q:  Have you set any goals for this season?

RL:  Oh yeah, yeah. I've got a piece of notebook paper full of them. I definitely want to learn our offense as a whole, and not just from the interior offensive line position. I want to learn what routes the receivers are running. I want to learn what our backs are doing, what our quarterback is thinking. I want to be more of a student of the game, have better knowledge and a better ability to grasp the defenses we're facing. And as I said, I want to communicate more instead of being the guy in the back of the class who hopes he doesn't get called on.

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