After learning that A.J. Edds and Griff Whalen were sidelined with injuries yesterday, we get news that Ben Ijalana reaggravated his left knee on Sunday, the same knee in which a torn ACL caused him to miss most of the 2011 season. Ijalana, along with Edds (who may have torn his ACL) is awaiting an MRI to find out the seriousness of the injury.
For Ijalana, this is a big blow. Knee injuries are nothing to scoff at, and anybody who follows football, or sports in general, knows that blowing out your ACL is a feared diagnosis among every player, fan, coach, and GM. While generally it's linked with causing skill players to lose their agility and explosiveness, we can't discount the affects that this injury could have long term for Ijalana. If the knee does not heal completely, and correctly, Ijalana may never have the necessary strength and power in his left leg to adequately play on the offensive line.
Considering how much potential Ijalana showed before his devastating injury last season, especially handling Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborne very well at left tackle, it could be a devastating loss for the Colts. It's been floated around, by WFNI radio personality JMV and Brad Wells, that Ijalana could be in danger of getting cut, if he doesn't "show more."
Unfortunately for Ijalana, he hasn't had a chance to show this new coaching staff what he can do. During OTAs and mini-camp earlier this summer, he was sidelined by his knee, and although he was cleared for practice last week, it seems he's been shelved once again. If he does not get a chance to prove his worth on the field, I would not be surprised to see him off the team by the end of training camp. Personally, I hope he can get back on the field, because he did show great potential, and he could be a very good long-term option for this team at either guard or tackle.
However, the question remains: If Ijalana does get healthy, what will the Colts do with him?
Currently, Ijalana is listed as a guard on the Colts.com roster, the position that many speculated he may be better suited for when he was drafted in 2011. Ijalana however, was drafted by the Polian front office with the right tackle spot in mind, and he saw his first (and only) in-game action at tackle, taking over for Anthony Castonzo when he went down with an ankle injury.
Most had expected Ijalana to either compete for the left guard spot with Joe Reitz, the right guard spot with Mike McGlynn, or the right tackle spot with Winston Justice. As of now however, it looks like those positions will be filled with little regard for Ijalana.
All reports coming from the Colts look like Mike McGlynn and Winston Justice have their starting positions locked down on the right side, despite a lack of consistency from both players in their past. As for the left guard spot, Coach Chuck Pagano added Jeff Linkenbach to the mix, and expects he and Joe Reitz to contend for the starting spot (as I've said multiple times, Reitz won't be cut. Personally, I think he should start).
Inserting Linkenbach into the guard competition makes very little sense from what we know. We know that Linkenbach has been a decent reserve tackle (see 2010), a poor starting tackle (see 2011), and a terrible starting guard (see 2010). Linkenbach has not shown the ability to play guard well, while Reitz has, and Ijalana has been speculated to have the potential to. Perhaps Linkenbach has bulked up this summer, worked on his technique at guard, and improved dramatically. That seems a little far-fetched to me, but it's possible.
Despite how Link performs, it seems that Ijalana is not currently being considered as someone who will contend for a starting spot. Personally, I believe it's simply due to the lack of opportunity he's had due to his lingering knee issues, but that's not the point. The point is that if/when Ijalana is completely willing and able to play, where will he end up? Realistically, he could back up all four non-center positions on the line, with the experience at tackle and the potential at guard. All signs from training camp are that they see him as a guard, which would give the Colts very little depth at the tackle positions. The Colts listed tackles currently include (outside of Castonzo and Justice): undrafted free agent Steven Baker, 2nd year Colts Mike Tepper, and 7-year veteran George Foster.
Of the three, Foster has the best pedigree, having a decent start to his career in Denver as a starting right tackle for three years. However, his last start in the NFL was 2008 with the Lions, and he has bounced between NFL training camps and the UFL ever since. Tepper and Baker both need to show more before they can be kept, and both would likely be developmental players.
What makes the most sense to me is for "Link" to stick to tackle, as a reserve for either Justice or Castonzo. Link performed decently when called into duty periodically in 2010 for injured LT Charlie Johnson, and is not a bad option for a fill-in pass protector. This would allow a guy like Ijalana to compete for the guard spot with Reitz, or be an on-call sub for either guard spot if/when injuries hit. The other option is to groom Ijalana for tackle, having him back up Justice this year and then look for him to take over next season. However, it looks like he won't get that chance.
In the end, it all centers around him being healthy.