Summer School Takes on A Bit More Imance, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS - As usual, the coming weeks matter to Tony Dungy very much.
The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions, are currently in their first week of what they call summer-school sessions, 14 days of on-field practices. Around the NFL, they are known as organized team activities.
Whatever the moniker, they're important to Dungy.
This year, that's a bit more true.
That's because this season, because of a new rule limiting teams to 80 players entering training camp, Dungy – in his seventh season as the Colts' head coach – will do something he and Colts President Bill Polian haven't done often during their previous six summer schools working together:
Evaluate talent, and make roster decisions.
Dungy said they won't do it because they want to. Or because they think it's a good idea.
But it will be necessary, Dungy said. Unpleasantly so.
"I normally say we don't evaluate much," Dungy said this week at the NFL Owners Meetings in Atlanta, Ga., a day before Tuesday's opening of summer school.
"But (this year) we have to, because we have to get down to 80 people and we have to make some decisions on guys before we go to camp, which you hate to do as a coach.
"That's another difficult part of it. But we'll adjust to that."
The Colts, who recently completed their 2008 rookie/veteran minicamp, will hold their summer school sessions the next four weeks, with three practices scheduled each of the next two weeks and four each of the two weeks following that.
The summer school sessions are scheduled to end June 12, with 2008 Training Camp scheduled to open at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in late July.
Dungy, who typically runs one of the NFL's shorter – and least intense – training camps, often has said one reason for that is because the Colts' veterans and rookies accomplish enough during the summer school sessions that it becomes an extension of training camp. That, he has said in the past, is why he has considered the work in late May and early June so important.
Because of the roster restrictions, Dungy also said this year's training camp will have a different, lighter feel: fewer two-a-day practices and more walkthroughs. The reason, he said, is fewer roster spots mean less flexibility to deal with injuries during a time when injuries are often frequent.
"It will be cut down," Dungy said.
It also, he said, may mean quicker preseason games, with teams making fewer substitutions.
Dungy said this week although the summer-school sessions indeed will take on an added importance, they can't match training camp as a time for quality player evaluation.
"You're going to be wrong more," Dungy said.
And Dungy said that's what's most worrisome.
Tight end Ben Utecht. Wide receiver Aaron Moorehead. Defensive end Josh Thomas. Running back Dominic Rhodes. Defensive tackle Darrell Reid. Middle linebacker Gary Brackett.
All were among the players acquired by the Colts as free-agent rookies in recent seasons, and all have made significant contributions. Brackett has been the team's defensive captain the past two seasons, and Rhodes – who recently re-signed with the team after a one-year absence – rushed for 113 yards in the Colts' Super Bowl XLI victory over the Chicago Bears.
But their opportunity to make the roster, Dungy said, may have been significantly less under the current 80-player rule.
"We may not even get a chance to sign those guys if we have an 80-man roster," Dungy said.
Dungy made the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 1977, doing so in an era during which there was no roster limit. In recent seasons, roster sizes have been in the mid-80s, varying by team depending on various roster exemptions.
"Not every good player gets drafted," Dungy said. "That's always been my thought."
Under the current system, Dungy said, "I'd have probably been teaching school in Jackson, Mich., which wouldn't have been all bad."
Dungy said the Colts currently have about 89 players on the roster, including unsigned rookie draft selections, meaning the team must trim the roster before training camp.
"That's seven guys you don't get a chance to look at," Dungy said. "Is one of those Dominic Rhodes or Ben Utecht or one of those other guys? From my standpoint, that's the negative to it, but from someone else's standpoint, that's seven more guys the rest of the league will have a chance at."
The most obvious example of a player who might not have made the Colts in recent seasons, Dungy said, is wide receiver Brad Pyatt, who made the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2003.
Pyatt signed with the team late in summer school, then played sparingly early in the preseason. He played well in the final two preseason games, returning a kick for a touchdown and making the team as a returner.
Early that season, in the Colts' memorable, 38-35 overtime victory over Tampa Bay in a Monday Night Football game, it was Pyatt's fourth-quarter kickoff return that set up a touchdown and changed the momentum in one of the biggest fourth-quarter comebacks in NFL history.
"If we'd had to make a decision out of summer school, Brad Pyatt wouldn't have been invited to camp," Dungy said. "He ends up being a good returner for us, and winning a couple of games for us. That's a perfect example. If we'd had 80 guys Brad Pyatt wouldn't have made our team.
"I think we're being a little shortsighted, when we talk about player development, how important that is seeing new guys in the mix. 'We're going to be a salary cap system,' which forces you to develop young guys, 'but we don't want you to have too many young guys.' It doesn't make sense.''