CONTINUOUS SERVICE

Heading into the free-agency period, the Colts have retained all but one starter from last season. The Colts haven]t always had such continuity in recent seasons, and Dungy said it could be a positive entering the 2008 season.

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Continuity has Dungy Optimistic Heading into Next Season

INDIANAPOLIS – As Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy sees it, the team's off-season story is a bit different this year.

This year, the story isn't as much about roster changes. It's not about player losses. Rather, it's about who the Colts haven't lost.

They didn't lose Dallas Clark. Or Bob Sanders. Or Ryan Lilja.

So, unlike past off-seasons, when the Colts often sustained at least a few high-profile free-agent departures, Dungy said this off-season's story is about continuity.

And that's a much more pleasurable story, as Dungy sees it.

"We have the chance to get probably our most number of players back from the previous team that we've had any time since I've been here," Dungy said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine, which is ongoing this week and weekend at the RCA Dome in downtown Indianapolis.

"Hopefully, that's good, that continuity."

Since Dungy's 2002 arrival, the news around the Colts during the late-February combine as often as not has centered around free agents not likely to return.

The Colts under Dungy and Colts President Bill Polian have focused most off-seasons on re-signing their own free agents. In the past five years, they have invested big money retaining players such as quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, offensive linemen Ryan Diem and Jeff Saturday and defensive ends Dwight Freeney, Raheem Brock and Robert Mathis.

Still, because the Colts have been one of the NFL's top drafting teams over the last decade, free-agent departures have been common, too.

In 2002, losses included guard Steve McKinney to the Houston Texans, and the following year, it lost linebacker Mike Peterson to the Jacksonville Jaguars. A year later, losses included linebacker Marcus Washington to the Washington Redskins and cornerback David Macklin to the Arizona Cardinals.

In 2005, guard Rick DeMulling signed with the Lions and tight end Marcus Pollard was released in a salary-cap move.

The trend continued the past two off-seasons. Following the 2005 season, running back Edgerrin James (Arizona), kicker Mike Vanderjagt (Dallas) and linebacker David Thornton (Tennessee) left as free agents, and following the Colts' Super Bowl victory in 2006, four more starters signed elsewhere: linebacker Cato June (Tampa Bay), cornerbacks Nick Harper (Tennessee) and Jason David (New Orleans) and running back Dominic Rhodes (Oakland). Defensive tackle Montae Reagor and wide receiver Brandon Stokley were released in salary-cap moves.

This season, four starters were scheduled to become free agents: safety Bob Sanders, tight end Dallas Clark and guards Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott.

The Colts re-signed Sanders late this past season, a move Polian said Thursday was imant for obvious reasons. Sanders is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year by several publications and groups, including the Associated Press.

"Everyone knows how important Bob is to our defense," Polian said.

The Colts then agreed to terms on new contracts with Lilja and Clark this week, with Lilja agreeing early in the week and Clark agreeing shortly after being named the team's franchise player on Wednesday.

"That was nice for us," Dungy said of retaining Clark. "We went into it the last couple of days thinking we'd have to use the franchise tag. No one really wanted that. To get that long-term deal done is the best for us and the best for Dallas, so we're very, very excited."

The lone starter from last season expected to become a free agent is Scott. Polian said it was clear early in the off-season it would be difficult to sign Lilja and Scott, and he said Thursday while the team would welcome Scott back "with open arms," it likely would not be proactive pursuing Scott.

"I don't think there's a whole lot of stuff for us to do at this point in time," Polian said. "We've resigned Bob. We've re-signed Dallas. We've resigned Ryan. So, I think now we'll step back, take a deep breath and see how things go going forward, but I don't think we'll be very active in the free agent market."

Said Dungy, "We had two guards. We'd like to get both of them. I don't know how the whole thing played out, whether we approached both guys and maybe the first one that came back got the deal. I'm not sure.

"We're happy to have Ryan. We'd like to get Jake as well. We'll see how it plays out."

Dungy said no matter how it works out with Scott, with all 11 starters expected to return on defense and 10 on offense, continuity has the potential to be a positive for next season.

"That's the way it worked this year," Dungy said. "I don't think there was any magic formula or anything where more guys wanted to stay, but the finances didn't always work out that way.

"We're excited about it. We think that continuity's going to help us."

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