News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 31, 2011

Expect Collins to play big role in Colts’ final preseason game

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — No decision, officially, has been announced confirming the fact that recently signed quarterback Kerry Collins will start against Cincinnati Thursday.

But it is fairly safe to assume that Collins, who joined the team last Wednesday and now has a couple of practices under his belt, will see a steady diet of work at Paul Brown Stadium.

“He’s going to play a lot,” Coach Jim Caldwell stressed Tuesday. ”Obviously we’ll kind of determine that here in the next couple days or so. Really, I’m looking at getting him the experience of operating the offense in a game-type situation.

“There are only so many things you can simulate in practice, but it’s a little bit different in the ballgame. But the nice thing is the fact that he’s been in [games], he understands concepts, he understands the basic philosophy of what we’re trying to do. He’s way ahead in that regard.”

Collins is being tutored in the Colts offensive system by quarterbacks coach Ron Turner.

“He’s getting a good feel for it, I think. We’ve been trying to saturate him with it as much as we possibly can. So he’s been working day and night. Ron Turner has been really counseling him along the way and trying to utilize every waking hour possible,” Caldwell said. “I think it’s certainly given him a chance to, at least, get familiarized with it somewhat. Now, obviously, the practices are extremely important, but he’s got to get some time in the game as well.”

 • Kick return battle -- With the decision to release running back Devin Moore Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts have narrowed the field of candidates vying to become the team’s kickoff and punt return specialists.

Moore had won the job last year but a shoulder injury sidelined him for most of the 2010 season. He was, once again, considered to be the frontrunner for the role heading into training camp four weeks ago.

Three undrafted rookies – Wide receivers David Gilreath and Larrone More along with safety Joe Lefeged – have gotten the most work returning kicks during the preseason. They figure to battle it out in practice and against Cincinnati.

In truth, though, the competition has in all likelihood been whittled down to Gilreath – who had an eye-opening 30-yard punt return in last Friday’s loss to Green Bay – and Lefeged.

“We’re still, obviously, still taking a look at some guys. We think that David Gilreath has done a nice job back there in terms of punt return. We’re still looking, in terms of kickoff return this week,” Caldwell previewed.

“Lefeged will probably do some, Larrone Moore will do some as well coming up. So we’re still just kind of looking, just in terms of our kickoff return. But we think a couple guys have done a pretty nice job back there.”

A former has standout defensive back at Rutgers, Lefeged has quickly moved his way up the Colts depth charts. He is the primary backup at strong safety, behind veteran Melvin Bullitt, and continues to make a strong push to be the regular kickoff returner.

“He can return punts, he can return kickoffs, and obviously he’s playing pretty steady at safety as well,” Caldwell said.

Diem experiment continues – Ryan Diem has started at right offensive tackle for the Colts since his rookie season in 2001. After a few games at right offensive guard, he slid outside to tackle where he’s been a productive player ever since.

Injuries and inconsistency hindered his effectiveness last year and there was talk that Indianapolis’ decision makers weren’t going to bring him back for the 2011 season. The Colts selected a pair of offensive tackles – Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana – with the first two picks of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Diem, however, did re-sign with the team prior to the start of training camp and appeared set at right offensive tackle for at least one more year. But then came the move midway through training camp where the former Northern Illinois offensive lineman was asked to move back inside to offensive guard.

When the Colts begin the regular season at Houston on Sept. 11, Diem could very well end up being the team's starting right offensive guard. Jeff Linkenbach or Ijalana would then move in and take over at right offensive tackle.

“We do like what we saw from him at guard. And it just gives us, I think, more opportunities. [Diem is] flexible enough to give us an opportunity to look at different scenarios. But I thought he performed well at that position [against the Packers last week],” the Colts coach said.

Linkenbach, a second-year lineman from the University of Cincinnati, had his own issues in the Green Bay game.

“I do think that he’s played enough football around here that it’s not something that’s commonplace,” Caldwell said. ”I would anticipate you seeing a little bit better performance out of him [against the Bengals Thursday night].”

Injury list -- Sitting out Tuesday’s practice were wide receivers Austin Collie (foot), Anthony Gonzalez (hamstring) and Blair White (PUP, back) along with offensive tackle Ryan Diem (elbow), safety Antoine Bethea (hamstring) and defensive end Dwight Freeney (rest).

Gonzalez' injury issues – His missed playing time in recent years due to knee and ankle problems will weigh in the coaching staff’s evaluation of the roster. NFL teams must be down to the regular-season maximum of 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday.

 But Caldwell pointed out Tuesday that he has a pretty good idea of what the former Ohio State standout can deliver in a game.

“We know exactly what he can do. It doesn’t take anything out of the ordinary when you evaluate him, every time he’s on the field, he makes something happen. He’s a guy who can catch, he can run, he’s a good open-field runner, he’s smart, he does a lot of things extremely well,” the Colts coach said.

“So there’s no guesswork in that regard. Obviously, this fall camp he did the exact same thing when he was on the field, but it was just a matter of him being able to stay healthy. That’s the key.”

 As it is for players at other positions as well.

 ”Overall, everything is taken into consideration. I know [former Indianapolis coach] Tony [Dungy] used to say it quite often. He used to always say that the most important ability is availability,” Caldwell explained.

“When you take a look at your overall squad you want to make certain – it’s a long haul, it’s a tough season – and you want to try to put the best individuals in place to withstand that.”