Like all good personnel men, Bill Polian does well projecting and predicting. But ultimately, he wants to see and judge not with forecasting but off of production.
And so he often says during the offseason and preseason, “Check with me three weeks in.”
I do my best to take him up on that, and spent some time on the phone with the Indianapolis Colts team president this week for that check-in.
Here, then, are the highlights of a wide-ranging discussion about the state of the 2-1 Colts.
Paul Kuharsky: You always say check in three weeks, so here I am. What’s your general feel about this team? Are you in as good a shape as you expected or do you have more concerns than you anticipated?
Bill Polian: I don’t really know, because all of the injuries have derailed us a little bit. So I am not really sure what we have at this point until we get everybody back healthy, or at least as many as we can. It’s been a struggle thus far.
PK: It seems like that injury string just goes and goes. Is it a cyclical thing, is it a bad-luck thing?
BP: I think it’s just a luck thing. You would hope it changes.
PK: Peyton Manning’s numbers are obviously fantastic. Is there anything subtle he’s done to get better?
BP: No, I don’t think so. I think he’s done a great job working the new receivers in and getting comfortable with them and letting them get comfortable with him. I think by and large it’s been business as usual.
PK: When Austin Collie has a game like he did in Denver, are you ever surprised when a guy maxes out the way he did, or it s a business-as-usual, we-expect-it kind of thing?
BP: When you put up gaudy numbers, that’s an every-once-in-a-while thing. But we expect a good performance from him. He’s a guy we’ve learned to be able to count on.
PK: How’s [rookie tight end] Brody Eldridge been and what kind of effect has he had on your offense?
BP: He’s been great. And he really had an effect in the running game and will get better day by day in the passing game, he’s got ability in that area and he will continue to develop it … Brody’s been really in there in a lot of run situations. But we trusted [undrafted rookie left tackle Jeff Linkenbach] to do the job and he did. For Brody, pass protection comes a little more slowly, he was more developed as a run blocker for obvious reasons [at Oklahoma], but he does both pretty well. Linkenbach was on his own a good portion of the time and he did a good job.
PK: When you get a nice game out of someone like Linkenbach, does that say to you we can continue to find guys on the offensive line who can be successful for us without a big pick or a big move? Or is that a position you’ll be constantly evaluating and where you’ll maybe be looking to get that big-time guy?
BP: Well, I don’t know that Link isn’t the big-time guy. I think we’ll find that out over time. And obviously we’re hoping to get Charlie [Johnson] back. You’re always looking for the best players you can get, the question is are they available when you choose and what else is available? We’d like to have big-time players at every position. Unfortunately when you’re drafting as low as we have, you don’t get a shot as some of the marquee guys but Link proves, just like Jamey Richard and Jeff Saturday and Ryan Diem, that you can find guys down low that are very productive players.
PK: I know you’ve been dinged up there, but do you feel like the offensive line is giving you better play or will give you better play than you got last year when you said it was a concern?
BP: I don’t think there is any question that it will be better. And I think you could argue that they’ve played about as well as they could have given all the injuries and the unsettlement there. But I don’t think that there is any question that it will be better over time.
PK: What will make it so?
BP: We’ve got Jamey playing left guard and that’s a new position for him. Mike Pollak’s done a nice job at right guard. Jamey had to play center in the preseason because Jeff Saturday was hurt the whole preseason. Link stepped in for Charlie, we’re hopeful that Charlie will be back here shortly, so that gives us some pretty good depth there and a lot of good young players there. So I think they’ll get better over time.
BP: Philip’s played well. The depth has turned out to be fine, unfortunately. Cody Glenn played well stepping in without much practice when Kavell Conner went down. Kavell played really well. So we’re happy with the depth we have. Pat Angerer played really well when Gary [Brackett] was out during the preseason. The depth is great, thank God. But hopefully we’ll get Clint back very soon and Kavell will be back in eight weeks. Hopefully we can span the gaps until then.
PK: Is Pat Angerer strictly an inside guy?
BP: We’ll see down the road, right now he’s inside, let him get comfortable there. And he is doing very well there. If we had an absolute emergency I guess he could go outside, but right now we’d rather have him inside.
PK: How do you evaluate your secondary depth?
BP: The depth isn’t what we’d like to have there at safety, but hopefully we’ll continue to be OK. That’s probably the area where we have the least depth and that’s simply because of injury. You could never have imagined that both Jamie Silva and Bob [Sanders] would go down for extended periods in the same year, that’s just bad luck but it happens to every team. You can’t change it. At corner, I’ve always believed you can never have enough, but the five guys we have are pretty good. And I think they’ll be OK.
PK: You guys did so well so much of the time last year at stopping the big plays, did you come out of Denver with concerns about that?
BP: It’s early yet and we’re still getting used to playing with one another and playing against people who do a little bit different things than we’ve seen before. Points and turnovers are what count for defense and the other stuff we can get corrected.
PK: How’s Fili Moala been?
BP: He’s been starting, he’s made a lot of progress. But every player does, the biggest jump a player takes is between his first and second year. Fili is no exception. And defensive line takes a longer time to develop than almost any other player, and Fili is no exception there. That said, he’s taken a big step and he’s developed and he’s playing fine. We’re very, very happy with the way he’s playing.
PK: Can you compare and contrast him to Antonio Johnson?
BP: Different styles. Fili is longer and he’s got more range than Mookie [Johnson]. He’s not quite as wide or stout and has to play with a little more quickness than Mookie does. But they both get the job done, but they are different styles of players with different body types.
PK: Some punts this year haven’t yielded you much in field position. Has your thinking on that changed at all? Might playing four downs in some spots to gain a scoring chance be more valuable?
BP: First of all, I don’t look at it from a statistical standpoint. To me, it’s always a game-by-game decision. Who’s the return man, what is the other team doing, what is the status of your defense, what’s the status of your offense? It’s a situation-by-situation decision. We’ve been unlucky in certain situations where if the ball had bounced properly for us or correctly for us we would have had kills on the 1-yard line. That said, we haven’t been as clean as we should have on the technique there and that will improve as we go on into the season. As far as decision making, that’s up to coach on a situation-by-situation basis and I don’t believe in any of the statistical formulas that I’ve seen.
PK: We’ve talked about [Jaguars GM] Gene Smith and how you like the way he’s building in Jacksonville. Are you surprised by their struggles the last couple weeks, and while I know you’re hoping they don’t bounce out of it this week, do you think they are still on track?
BP: Obviously we’re hoping that, but they are perfectly capable of doing it. I do like the way they are building, I think they are going about it in the right way. It takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight and I think they will be heard from before too long and I hope it’s not this weekend.
PK: When a quarterback struggles like David Garrard has the last two weeks, how much is confidence the biggest thing in play?
BP: The whole thing is a continuum; it’s not one individual player or even one individual platoon. Sometimes it can just be a bad break here, a penalty there and you get in those kinds of streaks and things can tend to mushroom on you. One thing I know about [Jaguars head coach] Jack Del Rio is he has a way of getting his team focused, he’s a tough guy, his team reflects that. They’ll play through it. There is a long, long way to go and I think they’re a much improved football team and they will show that before too long. I just hope it doesn’t come this weekend.
PK: Obligatory contract question. Have you had any significant talks with Tom Condon about Peyton Manning?
BP: Yeah, we continue to talk and there is nothing else to report other than that.