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Colts upgrade defense, offensive line in draft

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bill Polian is tired of coming up short.

So on Saturday, he went big. Real big.

After using his first three draft picks exclusively on defenders, the Colts president selected a massive guard and a new blocking tight end to help the Colts start converting those mystifying short yardage and goal-line runs.

"We've been looking to improve the run game," coach Jim Caldwell said Saturday.

Finding a solution to the problem has been the Colts' top offseason priority.

From the moment Polian criticized the offensive line following the Super Bowl loss, Indianapolis has put most of its energy into revamping the line.

Longtime coach Howard Mudd retired after the season and was replaced by assistant Pete Metzelaars. Starting guard Ryan Lilja was released in March, and Polian then made a rare move by signing two free agents, guard Andy Alleman and tackle Adam Terry.

Conventional wisdom suggested Indy wanted bigger bodies, a notion Polian downplayed before the draft.

Then Saturday, after choosing three straight defensive players, the dominoes started falling again.

Polian took 324-pound guard Jacques McClendon from Tennessee and 265-pound tight end Brody Eldridge, who served primarily as a blocking tight end, fullback and guard at Oklahoma.

"We think he (McClendon) has the tools to be exactly what Jake Scott was, exactly what Ryan Diem was," Polian said, referring to two second-day picks who became starters on the line. "Those were players we drafted in that round because they're smart, they're athletic, they can move around. We don't see any reason he can't come in and compete for a job."

McClendon started 26 games with the Volunteers, bench pressed a school record 645 pounds, is pursuing a master's degree and still got drafted after not getting an invite to the NFL combine.

Now the Tennessee native will have a chance to protect one of his favorite players, four-time MVP Peyton Manning.

He can't wait.

"I've got a Peyton Manning jersey, I've got his autographed helmet in my mother's house, so you know I'm a huge Peyton Manning fan," McClendon said during a conference call. "I can't wait to get to work and start learning from him. I know I have to be on top of everything."

Polian also had another mission this weekend — upgrading a defense that made big improvements in its first season under coordinator Larry Coyer.

The Colts used their first-round pick on defensive end Jerry Hughes, the last player Polian had on his board with first-round value. Hughes, taken No. 31 overall, gives Indy a third speed rusher to go along with Pro Bowl ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

On Friday, Polian continued the theme. He took Iowa's Pat Angerer in the second round. Angerer will start his career as the backup to middle linebacker Gary Brackett and could eventually become Brackett's successor. In Round 3, Polian again went for defense, taking cornerback Kevin Thomas of Southern Cal to fill the void left by Marlin Jackson's departure.

"I wouldn't say we started out specifically saying 'We want defense,'" Polian said. "But if you're at the back part of the early rounds, the odds are pretty good that defensive players are what is going to be there."

It just so happened that all three players fit Indy's needs.

Things went so well, Polian didn't stop picking defenders.

He took 294-pound defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews from Cincinnati with the first of three seventh-round choices before closing the weekend by selecting Clemson linebacker Kavell Conner and cornerback Ray Fisher from Indiana.

Fisher was one of the nation's best kick returners, something the Colts needed, and is the first Hoosiers player to be chosen by the Colts franchise since kicker Frank Stavroff in 1976. That was eight years before the Colts played their first game in Indy.

"When you're looking for someone that's not necessarily a starter, you want someone who can play a lot of roles and he can do that," Polian said when asked about Fisher.

And yet Polian still had enough picks to make two sizable additions to the Colts' line.

"We don't ever believe in forcing a pick," Polian said. "So we think we're OK at tackle with the fellows we've got. You know we didn't do too badly last year."