by Kent Sterling
Coming out of Villanova University as a 2011 second round pick, it appeared Ben Ijalana and his first round mate Anthony Castonzo would be the bookend tackles the Colts so desperately needed to protect Peyton Manning.
Manning’s series of neck surgeries took him out of the equation, and all of a sudden Ben and Anthony were trying to keep Curtis Painter upright.
Then it got worse as Ijalana tore his ACL in game four of his rookie season. And he tore it again last preseason.
Yesterday, the long road back continued at Colts Camp at Anderson University as Ijalana joined his teammates in pads. During drills with the third unit as a left tackle, Ijalana looked quick and strong in keeping lineman from breaking containment.
Granted the linemen testing Ijalana weren’t world beaters, but I didn’t see any of those who tested him get the corner or move him back an inch.
There is so much to watch during workouts that sometimes it’s hard to keep an eye on anything specific, but yesterday I watched Ijalana and Andrew Luck. I wanted to see if Ijalana looked like a guy with two ACL surgeries, and whether Luck ever dropped focus and gave the vibe that he would rather be somewhere else.
It’s hard to believe that Luck could possibly be as relentlessly enthusiastic as he appears. I waited and waited for him to shuffle, moan, or become fatigued with the routine. Nope, nope, and nope. As physically gifted as Luck is, it’s his attitude and leadership that the Colts most prize.
My attention turned to Ijalana because with the offensive line’s issues in 2012, and the partial upgrades this season, the Colts sure could use a little help up front from an unexpected source.
The first unit line the first two days of camp have been Gosder Cherilus, Mike McGlynn, Samson Satele, Donald Thomas, and Anthony Castonzo. The depth behind those starters doesn’t appear to be full of road graters. If the offense has a weakness, it’s in that group up front who allowed Luck to absorb way too much punishment and cleared the way for running backs who averaged an NFL 26th best 3.8 yards per carry.
Ijalana would bring length, big hands, bulk, and quick feet to a group that can use more of those three traits, and yesterday he looked great.
If that line can open holes for Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard, as well as give Luck four seconds to use his battery of weapons, they will score a lot of points. The receiving corps of future hall of famer Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Dwayne Allen, and Coby Fleenner is among the best in the NFL, but if Luck is on the ground, or worse, on the bench nursing an injury, they won’t matter much.
Yesterday, Ijalana protected the staffer paid to stand in the pocket as though the future of the franchise depended upon it – because eventually it will.
The key to putting Luck in a position to succeed might be Ijalana who can play right tackle or either guard spot. Yesterday he looked like a guy who can help.