INDIANAPOLIS – When it comes to the 'Next Man Up' philosophy of the Colts there is no exception to the rule. No matter the player or the position missing, the Colts will head into Sunday's regular season opener against the Houston Texans with one thing on their mind – to win.
"We are still going to be 53 guys that have to go play," Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "However it shakes down, whoever is ready, we have to go play. I don't think the Texans are going to take it easy on us because somebody isn't playing. We are going to have to go out and win the game no matter what."
As the Colts issued a statement Monday stating that quarterback Peyton Manning's status for the Houston game was 'likely doubtful' the mood in the locker room did not waver.
"Whoever's at quarterback, whoever's at receiver, whoever's playing, we expect them to hold the same level of play as the person was in front," cornerback Jerraud Powers said. "There's not going to be a change of mind of any of the players in the room. We know what we can do in this room. We know what we are capable of. If Peyton's not able to play, he's just not able to play."
Having to overcome injuries is nothing new to the Colts. With their backs against the wall and injuries across the board offensively and in the defensive secondary, the Colts won their last four games in 2010 while capturing the AFC South.
Cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden, Jacob Lacey and Powers missed a combined 15 games last season, along with linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett sitting out another four games due to injury. Safety Melvin Bullitt missed the final 12 games after taking over for Bob Sanders, who was lost for the season after the first game.
The Colts secondary lost Hayden and Sanders in the off-season but expectations among the entire unit have not changed in the least.
"We want to go out there and be the best defense in the league, and that's what we are going to strive to be," Powers said. "We are not going to put more pressure on ourselves thinking that we've got to give the offense more opportunities because they have the same mentality we have, 'Next Man Up.'
On the offensive side of the ball, running back Joseph Addai and tight end Dallas Clark missed a total of 18 games in 2010. The receiver position took the brunt of the injury problem with Anthony Gonzalez playing only two games and Austin Collie missing seven games.
"You approach each season a little differently, because so many different things happen," Caldwell said. "What I focus on, and focus on mainly, is our objective. What do we have to do? My job is to get our team ready to function and play, regardless the circumstances. Not only just to function to play, but to win. If we don't win, it's a problem."
With the status of Manning in question, the Colts defense was continually asked if it will take on added pressure this Sunday.
"Doesn't change anything," safety Antoine Bethea said in regard to the possibility of missing Manning and the defense's approach. "If anything, we just have to go step it up a bit…business as usual."
If Manning cannot play, veteran Kerry Collins likely could take on a larger role with his new team. Collins is the most experienced player in the locker room and even though he has only been apart of the Colts for two weeks, this would not be his first time on the main stage.
"I guarantee you I will bust my butt to get ready to play this week," Collins said if the opportunity to play arises. "I know what it takes to prepare and be successful in this league, so I'm going to do all those things, rely on all the experience I have. I have a good idea of what I need to do to get ready to play and give a winning performance."
One unit bringing in some fresh faces in 2011 is the offensive line. Tackle Anthony Castonzo and guard Joe Reitz could be making their first career NFL starts on Sunday, and they could have the task of blocking the blindside of the quarterback.
On the other side of the line, Ryan Diem could move to right guard on Sunday, a position he has not played since much earlier in his career.
"We are not trying to overcompensate for anything," Diem said. "It's going to be business as usual. As a group we have to go out there and protect whoever is back there."
For years, Indianapolis has made a practice of focusing on the matter winning, no matter who it took to accomplish the mission. The plan is no different as the team heads into the 2011 opener.
"It's a function of our team that we have always talked about. It's 'the next man is up,' Caldwell said. "Whoever's going to be called upon, whoever that may be has to be able to step up and play, and play well enough for us to get a victory. We expect that."