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Colts use three draft picks on highly-rated centers

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tony Dungy has always been impressed by Howard Mudd's magical touch, so this weekend he gave the Colts offensive line coach some new talent.

After nearly a decade of placing premiums on offensive skill positions and revamping the defense, Indianapolis switched gears and selected three of the highest-rated centers in this year's NFL draft.

"Yeah, yeah, Howard's happy," Dungy said with a smile after the Colts made their final selection Sunday. "And these are Howard's type of guys."

Dungy believes a philosophical change was overdue.

During Bill Polian's decade-long tenure as president, the offensive line has seemingly taken a backseat on draft weekend. Last year's selection of Tony Ugoh in the second round marked the first time since 1999 Indy had even used a first-day pick on an offensive lineman.

Yet somehow, Mudd has always made it work. He's taken lower-round picks, undrafted players, even players released by other teams and has cobbled together an offensive line that annually ranks among the league's most proficient units.

But last season, a few cracks started to show during an injury rash. The makeshift unit allowed two-time league MVP Peyton Manning to be sacked 21 times - low by league standards but the most he had been sacked since 2002 - and take more hits than usual.

When free agent Jake Scott, the Colts' starting right guard, signed with Tennessee, it was time to change.

"We talked about really addressing the offensive line," Dungy said. "Since I've been here, we've really let Howard do it with smoke and mirrors and an occasional later choice. It was time to address it, and we felt we did that."

The result: Indy used a third of its draft picks on college centers - Arizona State's Mike Pollak in the second round, Wake Forest's Steve Justice in the sixth and Buffalo's Jamey Richard in the seventh. At least two of them are likely to change positions.

Polian wants Pollak, who is 6-foot-3 and 293 pounds, to compete with Dylan Gandy and Charlie Johnson at right guard, and the Colts are also listing Richard, who is 6-5 and 301 pounds, as a guard.

The Colts also took two tight ends, Kentucky's Jacob Tamme and Virginia's Tom Santi. Santi is considered more of a blocker.

While the pundits suggest the rookie linemen are slightly undersized for the NFL, they all fit Mudd's model.

He prefers smaller linemen who are smart and agile enough to play multiple positions on the line, and, of course, they're now working with one of the best line coaches in the league.

"It's important to always keep that group green and growing and we both felt it was necessary to bring in some young depth there," Polian said. "If you give Howard 14 guys, he'll come out with the right eight, so we feel very good about that."

Mudd may get a few more linemen for training camp, too, when the Colts finish lining up undrafted free agents.

There's also a chance Indy could sign a veteran free agent, although the most likely scenario might be bringing in a veteran linebacker like Rosevelt Colvin.

Dungy said during a radio interview over the weekend that Colvin, an Indianapolis native and former Purdue player, had visited the Colts complex last week, and Polian said Sunday that the Colts would consider that possibility after signing undrafted free agents.

Colvin spent nine seasons with the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots. He has 414 tackles, 52½ sacks, three interceptions, 13 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries although he's been injured the last few seasons in New England.

"We'll see," Polian said. "We'll sit down and talk about that, but we want to make sure we've got these guys signed first. Then we'll take a look at the roster and see what we have."

Indy also drafted two linebackers over the weekend, Georgia Tech's Philip Wheeler and Georgia's Marcus Howard. Yet the Colts see Wheeler as more of a pass-rushing defensive end.

But the biggest surprise of the weekend was re-enforcing Mudd's offensive line, something the Colts believe they've accomplished.

"They're all guys who played a couple different positions in college, and they're a lot like Jake, Ryan Diem and Ryan Lilja, guys that we've had success with in the past," Dungy said. "But like everyone here, until you become a starter, you'll play at different spots, and we'll see what the best combinations are. It was just time to address it."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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