BACK IN THE GROOVE

The Colts on Wednesday began preparing for Sunday's preseason game in Lucas Oil Stadium against the Buffalo Bills. Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said this week's preparation is more like a regular-season game than any other preseason week.

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Colts Return to Normal Schedule at Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center
INDIANAPOLIS – They arrived early, then met in the morning.

Around lunch at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, players ate and spoke to the media, and in the afternoon, the Colts practiced with an eye toward Sunday.

All in all, Colts tight end Dallas Clark said it felt a lot like a regular-season Wednesday.

And that was the whole idea.

"It starts today," Clark said Wednesday afternoon as the Colts (1-2 in the preseason) prepared to play the Buffalo Bills (1-1) in the first preseason game at new, state-of-the-art Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday at 8 p.m.

"It's a chance for the younger guys to see what a weekly routine looks like. It's going to be great for everyone involved, for the veterans and for the young guys."

Such was the mood around the Colts on Wednesday. Training camp – the part spent at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., anyway – is over. The players and coaches are back in Indianapolis now, and for the first time in the 2008 preseason, they're preparing specifically for a game.

It's back to a normal routine.

And in this case, Colts running back Joseph Addai said, routine is a good thing.

"It helps a lot," Addai said. "You've got to have the same routine, week in and week out. You want to understand what's going on and you want to be comfortable when game time comes."

The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South Champions, spent the past three-and-half weeks at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, breaking camp there this past Friday and returning to Indianapolis early Sunday morning after a preseason victory in Atlanta.

The team practiced Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time, touring the stadium and examining the facility's logistics.

On Wednesday, preparation began for Sunday's game, something that Dungy and several players said marks a significant change from the early weeks of camp.

Whereas much of the time in Terre Haute focused on installing the offense and defense and working on fundamentals, the Colts this week meet on the same schedule as they will in the regular season. They also install game plans specifically designed for Buffalo.

"It's a typical Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "It really helps our young guys get acclimated to how we do things. It's kind of nice to get back in that routine. We're looking forward to it. We had our normal meetings and walkthroughs (Wednesday morning). We had our normal practice that would be similar to a Wednesday practice during the season. All systems are pretty much 'Go' and we're looking forward to getting started.

"Hopefully, that will cause us to sharpen up. We'll also structure our practice time where everybody's not going to get the same amount of practice time and we will focus on the starters and the guys who are going to play a little bit more this week."

The week, players said, essentially becomes a dress rehearsal for the regular season, something Colts defensive end Raheem Brock said is good for veterans and essential for rookies.

"It's easy for us now, the vets," Brock said, adding that for rookies, "it helps out a lot. Now, we have defensive schemes set. We're going to run our defense based on what they run. We're not just going to go run our base defense no matter what they play.

"This is the first time we're doing that. It helps us out a lot in terms of getting an advantage in the game."

Said third-year veteran safety Antoine Bethea, "It helped me a lot (as a rookie), just being able to see how things were going to go in the regular season. You follow the older guys and let them lead the way and follow in their footsteps."

The change in routine will extend beyond preparation, Dungy said. Whereas starters played about 12-to-15 plays in the first two preseason games and 25 against Atlanta, Dungy said the Colts' first-team players should get their most extensive preseason action Saturday, likely playing into the third quarter.

"I always like to do that in the third preseason game – get us playing in the third quarter so we get the feel for what we do at halftime and how we make adjustments, incoring that into the second half. I'd say those guys would play into the third quarter for sure."

All of which Clark said gives the week a decidedly regular-season feel, which he said is a welcome change from three-and-a-half weeks away from home.

"It just kind of gets you back in the groove and that routine of all the meetings in the morning and then the afternoon practice," Clark said. "It's definitely something that's a little different from camp. In camp, we have practice in the morning and practice in the afternoon and meetings in between.

"Now, we get back on that routine we'll have until the playoffs."

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