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Colts' forgotten linemen are still fighting for respect

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) -Tarik Glenn would occasionally walk through the Colts' locker room wearing a T-shirt that read OWUA. His teammates always knew what it meant: overworked, underappreciated.

Welcome to life as an Indianapolis lineman.

"Our offense is stacked with superstars, so the offensive line has always been a group who kind of lives in that shadow," right tackle Ryan Diem said Wednesday. "But I think we're starting to get more attention because we're good at what we do, and I'm not afraid to say that."

For the past decade, the Colts' offensive line has been one of the NFL's best.

It's consistently ranked among the league leaders in fewest sacks allowed - No. 1 three straight years - and produced 1,000-yard rushers.

Not bad for a bunch of players who were discounted when they left college.

Of the four incumbent starters - Glenn retired last week - none were first-day draft picks and two, Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday and guard Ryan Lilja, weren't selected at all.

Somehow, offensive line coach Howard Mudd has found a way to make it work.

"It might be said about our boys that they're not quite good enough to do certain jobs," he said. "But we refuse to believe that, and they refuse to believe that, and I think that's why they've made it."

Armed with an old-school philosophy, Mudd, a 34-year NFL coaching veteran, has kept things in sync despite losing players. At practice, he rotates six players with the No. 1 offense to build unity and versatility, traits the Colts have relied upon to plug holes when needed.

There have been 10 starters since Peyton Manning's rookie season, yet there's been almost no dropoff in the results and virtually no change in the line's overall image.

While Mudd acknowledges high-profile stars such as Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Joseph Addai routinely praise the line's work, that's not always the case outside the locker room.

Glenn's first Pro Bowl trip in 2004, as an alternate, ended an eight-year drought for Colts linemen. Saturday joined Glenn the last two years.

But without a nickname, like The Hogs, or a vow of silence, like the Denver Broncos, Indy's linemen have focused more on business and less on rewards.

"I think it's difficult to earn respect because we're in a smaller market and people don't see you as much," said Saturday, the longest-tenured lineman. "Winning playoff games helps, but I think you've got to play at a high level for a long period of time to get that respect nationally."

This season, Mudd and his players face a new challenge.

For the first time since '98, they're training a new left tackle to protect Manning's blind side. Rookie Tony Ugoh, a second-round pick, gets the first chance.

Left tackle is traditionally one of the hardest positions for rookies to play because of the size, speed and experience of NFL players. Plus, they're usually up against the league's top pass rushers.

Ugoh's job is even more difficult because he must learn Manning's audible calls in practice and practice against Dwight Freeney, a former NFL sacks champion.

So far, the players and coaches like what they've seen.

"He's picked things up pretty quickly and I think he'll be fine," Diem said.

Freeney's evaluation: "Tony's getting better, but he has a lot to learn and I might have to teach him a few things real fast."

If there's a problem, Mudd could always use the fallback option. He has the unheralded Charlie Johnson, a second-year tackle who backed up Diem on the right side last year, and the unknown Dan Federkeil, an undrafted Canadian.

Given the background of this line, it would be a perfect fit.

"I'm proud of what they do," Mudd said. "I'd rather have the record we have and the measurable stats we have than any Pro Bowl thing. I'd rather win, and I think they feel that way, too."

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