When the Indianapolis Colts picked up two offensive linemen with their first two picks in the 2011 NFL Draft it should have sent a signal to the rest of the offensive linemen on the roster. “Prove yourself worthy of your spot or we are serious about finding your replacement.” Although both of the players drafted are projected as the team’s future offensive tackles, there is no guarantee that either of them will be immediate starters on the outside. As a result, the guards also need to step things up or they will find themselves coming off of the bench.
For 2008 second round pick Mike Pollak, there can be no more important time for his NFL future. The team intended that he would be an immediate long-term starter at guard and predicted that he was the kind of player who would be a solid replacement for center Jeff Saturday as his career winds down. Instead, Pollak has struggled to hold onto a starting guard spot, losing it more than once to undrafted free agents Kyle DeVan and Jeff Linkenbach.
Late in the 2010 season his performance improved noticeably when he took back over for Linkenbach, who struggled on the inside (but performed well at both tackle positions). But that was last year.
In the abbreviated 2011 training camp, the competition at guard has gotten even more fierce. Consider that the Colts drafted Benjamin Ijalana (2nd – ’11), Jacques McClendon (4th – ’10), Jaimie Thomas (7th – ’09), Jamey Richard (7th – ’08), brought in undrafted players like DeVan and rookie Jake Kirkpatrick, and brought in local talent Joe Reitz — who was formerly with the Ravens and Dolphins — to compete for the starting guard positions. If Pollak cannot lock down his spot in 2011, he will no longer be able to count on a contract as lucrative as his rookie deal, and will likely need to find his way onto another roster (assuming he is not still in line to take over for Saturday).
To this point in his career, and to this point in training camp, it would seem that the odds are against him. While he may line up with the first team now, the Colts will want to get Ijalana onto the field as quickly as possible, Reitz has been working with the first team on the left side, DeVan has taken his starting job from him more than once, and McClendon is a player the team had a great deal of confidence in when they drafted him.
The pressure is on for Pollak to shine in 2011. If he does, he can help lead a young offensive line into the future. If he doesn’t, he could become another example of what the NFL really stands for: “not for long.”