ANDERSON, Ind. -- Eric Dickerson once said running behind the Indianapolis Colts offensive line was like playing Russian Roulette, and now that line has been depleted by a trade, a free agent defection and a holdout.
With Pro Bowl center Ray Donaldson and right tackle Kevin Call the only returning starters in training camp, even some Colts offensive linemen admit that the line is in need of repair.
'Some of the criticisms can be justified,' Donaldson said. 'We've got a bunch of young guys. We need a lot of work, and the only way you can (improve) is by repetition.'
Dickerson in March told an Indianapolis television station that he was afraid of serious injury running behind the Colts line and that he would retire to protect his health.
A month later, the Colts included Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Hinton in a trade with Atlanta that netted the top pick in the NFL draft, which they used on Illinois quarterback Jeff George.
Starting right guard Ben Utt also went to the Falcons before the draft. The Colts left him unprotected, and Utt signed with Atlanta as a Plan B free agent.
Left guard Randy Dixon is holding out, and Colts general manager Jim Irsay has pledged to take a hard line on veterans' salaries.
With Hinton, Utt and Dixon absent, Indianapolis is counting on rookies and little-used younger players to fill their spots.
'The coaches have got to put together something that resembles a good offensive line,' Donaldson said.
At Hinton's position, the leading candidate is 6-foot-6 Zefross Moss, who has struggled with his weight. He ballooned as high as 360 pounds before dropping to his present 328. If he does not lose at least 3 pounds a week to get to a playing weight of 315, he must pay a fine.
Moss' position is especially important, because on pass-blocking he would likely have to protect the blind side of George, who is costing the Colts $15 million over six years.
'It's a lot of pressure (to replace Hinton),' Moss said. 'But I'm a natural lefthander, and I feel natural at that position.'
Coach Ron Meyer has ticketed versatile Brian Baldinger, who has played four offensive line positions as well as tackle-eligible receiver, as Utt's replacement. However, Meyer said the line's inexperience might force him to use Baldinger at different positions again, including the left tackle spot.
'Brian's always been a valuable player because of his versatility,' Meyer said. 'We're still counting on that in the deep corners in the my mind.'
At Dixon's spot, no clear replacement has emerged. Pat Tomberlin, a draft choice last year who spent all season on the developmental squad, is seeing much of the practice time.
'Of course we have a long way to go,' Moss said. '(But) if the (Colts linemen) didn't have the talent, they wouldn't be here.'
'People are going to criticize, and that's OK,' he said. 'That's the game. That's the business.'
Dickerson has lavished his linemen with expensive gifts after stellar seasons, but on the opposite end, his stinging criticisms after last season still loom large.
'I don't know about forgiving him. I definitely won't forget it,' Donaldson said. 'I just have to go out and do my job.'