Linkenbach fares OK protecting Manning

The Indianapolis Colts were forced to endure a preseason scramble on the offensive line. Jeff Saturday had knee surgery and wasn’t around. Charlie Johnson missed a ton of work with a foot injury. Tony Ugoh was still in the mix but also hurt.

But one of the silver linings was a chance to see kids in action, and tackle Jeff Linkenbach made the team based on his performance. Sunday he started for the still-ailing Johnson in Denver, protecting Peyton Manning’s blind side.

“I think the nice thing with him is he got a chance during the preseason to play a pretty significant amount,” Jim Caldwell said at his Monday press conference. “So he got quite a few reps underneath his belt. He had an opportunity to match up with some of the talent within the league early on and that helped him. They just continue to get a little bit better, a little bit more comfortable, but it doesn’t happen in a matter of weeks or months. I think it’s years, particularly at that particular position until they get really, really settled down.

“We faced a couple of guys last year that were rookies at the tackle position and by the time we saw them that following year, things had changed. They had become more confident, they understood how to use their skill set and they’d improved. I would anticipate that he’s going to follow the same graph.”

Linkenbach got some help from Brody Eldridge and even Dallas Clark lining up next to him, but he was on his own plenty as well. Linebacker Robert Ayers ran around him once to put a combo hit on Manning as he threw a third-down incompletion.

“In the passing game, that was the exception, not the rule,” Linkenbach said. “There were a couple mental mistakes early on with the crowd noise and then I settled down. I was high at times in the run game. I was all right, not great. It was not bad for a first start…

“I got some good feedback on a lot of stuff to help me do better. It’s always easier to handle after a win rather than a loss.”

But he seemed to come through it OK and he did the No. 1 job of a left tackle: He didn’t get his quarterback hurt.

“He hung in there, he played tough, he’s a scrappy guy, he gets after it in there,” Caldwell said. “He did some things that young guys do. He’s coming along.”

There is no indication if the week off means Johnson will be feeling better and be able to return to action in Jacksonville to deal with Aaron Kampman or if he needs time on the shelf and Linkenbach will face the veteran 4-3 edge rusher.