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Former Rams coach understands baggage, but likes talent


The Colts are inexperienced, lack depth and have health issues in the middle of their offensive line.

A healthy former Pro Bowl guard has just come on the market and very likely could be had at a bargain price.

Of course, when the player in question is Richie Incognito, it isn’t as simple as that.

Or is it?

As assistant head coach in St. Louis from 2006-08, Rick Venturi had an insider’s view of Incognito, a third-round pick of the Rams in 2005. Though the young lineman had some obvious issues that ultimately led to his departure from St. Louis in 2009, Venturi believes the Colts should at least consider the possibility of signing Incognito, who was cleared to return to the NFL on Monday.

“As a football player, you really have to look at him,” Venturi said. “He’s much more experienced than their other interior linemen, certainly more than a (rookie Jack) Mewhort at left guard. And he’s legitimately a Pro Bowler, which certainly none of those young kids have.

“The negative side for me is not the locker room side. Chemistry won’t mean anything if you keep playing like you did Saturday night. If you keep getting that quarterback hit, it’s not going to make any difference how much chemistry you have. I would think, from everything he’s been through, and the word out of the NFL is he’s really worked at it, I don’t think he’d be an issue. ...

“I’m a mercenary. I would be concerned about the locker room but I actually think in the short term he’d be just fine.”

Incognito isn’t the only option, should the Colts make a move. The best player potentially available is Alex Boone, the 49ers Pro Bowler, but he’s holding out for a big payday. Though the Colts have around $16.4 million in cap space, Boone’s pricetag would be a deterrent. And there will always be retreads like former Colts starter Mike McGlynn, just released by the Redskins.

But Incognito is a rare, intriguing and potentially combination of talent, experience, modest asking price – not to mention more baggage than the team might be willing to accept.

Few teams have a greater need than the Colts. Their projected starter at left guard is Mewhort, a rookie who has been in and out of practice with a lingering knee problem. His backup is veteran Lance Louis, trying to come back after missing all of last season with a knee injury.

The projected starter at right guard is Hugh Thornton, a second-year player. At center, the Colts have two players that have never started an NFL game, Khaled Holmes and Jonotthan Harrison.

Incognito would bring considerable baggage, not only from his suspension for bullying former Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin, but from anger management issues that have marked his career going back to his early days at Nebraska more than a decade ago.

But he also would bring precisely the type of strength and experience the Colts lack inside.

“Anybody that’s on the street right now, after the cutdowns this weekend, anybody that comes available, we’ll discuss,” said Chuck Pagano. “We will not, based on anything, say yea or nay based on the history of this, that or the other.

“If it makes sense, if it’s going to help us win, if it’s the best thing for the team and this organization moving forward, it doesn’t matter if it’s Richie or anybody else, we’ll do what’s right for this organization and what’s best for this team, what gives us the best chance to win.”

With the Rams, Incognito’s biggest problem was committing foolish penalties. In four seasons, he was flagged 38 times, including an NFL-high seven times for unnecessary roughness.

“A very, very talented player, particularly a run-blocker,” Venturi said. “He is a strong, road-grading left guard. The problem with (the Rams) was I always thought it was a selfishness or a lack of control. He was constantly getting silly penalties, unnecessary roughness, after-the-snap stuff, just not in total control of himself. …

“He loved his macho image, and I thought it had gotten away and that was the selfish part, he couldn’t control that and got penalties. And eventually what happened, he just wore out his welcome.”

A coach for 41 years, Venturi has spent the past five as a media analyst, working closely with the Rams and Colts. Because of his history with Incognito, he maintained a keen interest in the player’s progress and was impressed by his performance after signing with Miami in 2010.

“In Miami, he played really good football and he cut down on the penalties,” he said. “He was in the Pro Bowl in 2012. And so on the field, he had shown a real maturity in terms of the things that were killing him in St. Louis, and I was gaining a lot of respect for him. I liked him on tape, I mean he knocked the hell out of you, still will.

“The locker room stuff (with Martin) came out and became another entity. That side of him, other than being kind of a boisterous kind of a blow-hard as a young kid, he was not disliked in that locker room in St. Louis. People got mad at him because he cost us penalties.”

One of the Dolphins’ big mistakes, Venturi maintains, was making Incognito part of the team’s leadership structure, a role that clearly did not suit his aggressive personality.

It would seem Incognito could fill a major need on the field, but whether he would fit in the locker room is the question Pagano and Ryan Grigson must weigh much more heavily than in their usual player evaluations.

“You see situations where guys that didn’t work out on one team can work out on another team,” said veteran backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. “Randy Moss, everyone said he was done, he goes to New England and has a career year and they go the Super Bowl. Just finding the right situation, finding the right fit, ‘here’s the standard, here’s how we do business, this is what we do.’

“When Marshawn Lynch came to Seattle, Pete (Carroll) said ‘I don’t care what your hair looks like, I don’t care about all that stuff normal coaches care about. Here’s what I care about: you just be you.’ It just has to be the right fit, I think. For (Incognito), he obviously had a really bad experience and he’s paying and has paid the price for that Miami experience. I think there’s probably a situation out there for him.”

But is there a situation here?

“I’m a mercenary,” Venturi said. “I would be concerned about the locker room but I actually think in the short term he’d be just fine.”

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