LOOKING AHEAD

Colts President Bill Polian said early this week the time for preparing for next season begins soon. He also said he is very much looking forward to next season and that he thinks the Colts will be a much better team in 2009.

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Colts Could be Better in 2009, Polian Says
INDIANAPOLIS - For now, the Colts are waiting.

But Colts President Bill Polian said early this week although much of this week will be about waiting for a decision from Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy regarding his future, the time for reflection and for recovering from a first-round playoff loss will be short.

"Next year is virtually upon us," Polian said on his weekly radio show Monday.

And Polian said it is with enthusiasm that he and the Colts' staff will prepare for a 2009 season that he said will be challenging off the field but filled with potential on it.

"I'm looking forward to it very much," Polian said days after the Colts lost to the San Diego Chargers, 23-17, in overtime in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game in San Diego Saturday. "I think we're going to be a much better team in 2009 than we were this past season."

Polian said the first item of business for the Colts is obvious: getting news on Dungy's future.

Dungy, who has coached the Colts to playoff appearances in each of his seven seasons with the team, has considered retirement each of the last several seasons. He said Sunday he planned to consider the issue again this week.

Dungy said on Sunday he hadn't yet made a decision, and that he would discuss the matter with his wife, Lauren.

"I'm going to spend the next few days with my wife, then once we decide what we're going to do, I'll let (Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer) Jim (Irsay) and Bill (Polian) know," Dungy said.

Polian said no matter Dungy's decision, he is confident. The Colts last season promoted Jim Caldwell to Associate Head Coach, and Polian said the transition to Caldwell to head coach if Dungy opts to retire would be "seamless."

"He'll make his decision," Polian said of Dungy. "If his decision is to come back, we'll welcome him back with open arms and I can't wait to get ready for '09. If he decides not to come back - if he decides that's the best situation for he and his family - then we'll respect that and move on to (Associate Head Coach) Jim Caldwell in a seamless transition.

"We'll have, I'm confident, the same kind of program and the same kind of team and the same kind of excellence that you're used to."

Once the coaching situation is certain, Polian said attention will turn fully to the off-season, with the first step scouting the college All-Star games, including the East-West Shrine game in Houston, Texas, on January 17, and the Senior Bowl on January 24 in Mobile, Ala.

The NFL Scouting Combine will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis from February 18-24, with the NFL Draft to be held April 25-26.

"We'll be back here around the first of February," Polian said. "Then, we'll begin preparation for next year. That's seven days a week and however many hours it takes."

Polian said that preparation will be made more difficult by unique factors in the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement that will mean tougher salary-cap related decisions this off-season.

"We will go through the last capped year with these very stringent rules that change things dramatically in terms of how you structure the cap, in terms of how the cap is accounted for and what decisions you make," Polian said. "So, for the first time in the 11 years we've been here, Jim and I together will face some squeezing of the cap. We never have before. We've managed it perfectly so that there have been no cap ramifications whatsoever."

Polian said rules in the CBA pertaining to 2009 also will make it more difficult to sign free agents, but said cornerback Kelvin Hayden - who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this off-season - "will very likely re-sign." Three-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday also is scheduled to become a free agent, as is running back Dominic Rhodes.

Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett said Sunday players know that the reality in the NFL in the salary-cap era is there will be roster turnover, and that the Colts will continue to remain one of the league's youngest teams. The Colts, who traditionally are one of the NFL's best-drafting teams and typically get significant contributions from free-agent rookies, had 15 rookies or first-year players on the roster against San Diego Saturday.

"That's to be expected," Brackett said. "It happens every year in the salary cap era. You just can't afford to keep everyone. It's about getting better, building on these young guys and having them come back next year and play some solid football for us."

But in terms of overall approach, Polian and Dungy each said early this week that the team will remain true to its longtime philosophy of not making wholesale off-season changes.

"We're not a big team in free agency," Polian said. "We have proven that we can win without it. We think the way we do things is the right way. . . .

"Every year, everybody except the Super Bowl champion goes home a 'loser.' In every city, there are calls for everyone's head. There are calls for change in direction. Over time, that has proven not to be the correct approach. If you look at the teams in the National Football League who habitually win, they are the ones who do the right things and stay the course. The teams that habitually give in to the short-term frustration of losing are the ones that continue to lose.

"What we're going to is, No. 1, work very hard to reward the supof the fans. We appreciate it. No. 2, we'll do the best we can to put the best team we can on the field. That doesn't mean it's going to be the team all of the experts like. But it will be a team that wins.

"Ultimately, I promise you that I and everyone else in this building will do everything they can in this offseason to make sure we give ourselves the best possible chance to win in the playoffs next year."

Dungy, too, said on Sunday that no matter his decision, the Colts' approach should and will remain consistent.

"What we have to do is continue to work," Dungy said. "It's not popular when people ask you, 'What do you need to do?' and you say, 'We just have to continue to improve, to make the guys on our team better, to bring in more talent the way we always have: through the draft and selected free agents if we can.'

"When you don't meet expectations this business, a lot of people have the idea you need to blow things up and start over. That's never been our style, and I don't think it will be."

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