MANNING RETURNS

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning returned to practice Tuesday afternoon for the first time since undergoing offseason knee surgery. He said he's working toward playing in the season opener September 7 against Chicago, but isn't predicting anything.

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Manning Returns to Practice at Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center
INDIANAPOLIS – Peyton Manning returned to practice Tuesday.

As for the other issue – which is whether he will be ready to play in the regular-season opener – the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback said his status is as it has been for much of the past six weeks.

His goal is to play in the season opener against Chicago on September 7.

He is working toward that goal.

And he expects to fulfill it.

But as for definite answers, guarantees or specifics about his playing status, Manning – who has not practiced or played since undergoing knee surgery in mid-July – on Tuesday afternoon said such things will have to wait for a more appropriate time.

"I'm not really doing the predictions at this point," Manning said Tuesday as the Colts (1-3 in the preseason) prepared to play the Cincinnati Bengals (1-2) in the 2008 preseason finale at Lucas Oil Stadium Thursday at 7 p.m.

"I hope to be ready and that is certainly the plan. I certainly did not want to create this dramatic announcement one way or the other. Every day, you hope you're making progress. You wake up the next morning and hope you still feel good.

"So far, that's what we've been dealing with. Obviously, you hope that still is the case throughout this week and going into next week."

Manning, who underwent surgery to remove an infected bursa sac in his knee 10 days before the start of Colts training camp on July 24, attended the team's preseason loss to Buffalo this past Sunday night. Tuesday was his first official practice since undergoing surgery.

"Whenever you can see anybody who's been in the system be able to go out there and practice, it's a always a plus," Colts two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. "Especially with it being Peyton, who hasn't been able to practice with us all year during training camp, it's obviously big for us. Hopefully, we can get him out there and getting him up top speed."

Manning, speaking before the Colts' afternoon practice, said, "I'm looking forward to getting back out there. It's been a little while. I've been doing some things on my own, but it's not quite the same until you're out there with the team and doing some of the different drills at practice. I do look forward to getting back out there today. . . .

"I've been doing some things on my own. It's not like today's the first day I'll be out there throwing or doing quarterback-oriented things. It will be the first time I'm out there with more than one receiver."

Manning said he may dress for the Cincinnati game, but likely will not play.

"We want to be limited – we're going to monitor him," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said, adding that rookie tight end Tom Santi – who also underwent a bursa-sac procedure shortly before camp – also was scheduled to return Tuesday.

"We just can't let those guys step in and do everything," Dungy said of Santi and Manning. "We have kind of a pitch count. We do have a maximum on both of those guys. . . .

"I've always been confident that he (Manning) has been on track to start (against Chicago). We'll see how that goes. The one thing we won't do is we won't put him out there if he's not ready to go physically or mentally. It's a long season.

"He thinks he's going to be ready. We feel like he will. But if he's not, we'll go to Plan B."

Jim Sorgi, the Colts' backup quarterback since 2004, started the first three preseason games before missing this past Sunday's game with a gimpy knee. Dungy said Sorgi on Monday underwent an MRI, the results of which were negative, and that Sorgi stayed away from the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center Tuesday to stay immobilized.

Manning said his goal is to practice "full-go" on Wednesday, September 3, the first day of regular practice in preparation for the regular-season opener at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

"It's probably not for me to answer what percent I am," Manning said. "We are to this point where I can get back out there and do some of the things involved with practice. I'm glad this day's finally here. We just need to keep hopefully progressing as time goes forward.

"Like we've said all along, the goal is to be ready for the season opener and I certainly hope to be and at this point I expect to be."

Manning compared his situation to that of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has yet to play this preseason because of a foot injury.

"I saw where Tom Brady said he expects to be ready for their opener," Manning said. "I guess I have the same opinion. I expect to be ready, but you still need things to keep progressing at this point."

Manning, while discussing his return to practice, said he didn't want to discuss the injury in much depth "because then if you come back and play they go, 'Man, look how tough he is – he came back after all that.' If you don't play, they go, 'Well, there's the reason.'

"I think what has happened in the past is somewhat not as imant right now, because this is where we are now. This is the significant step today for me to be out there on the practice field. If things go as we hope they do and expect they do, I definitely see myself practicing fulltime next week and playing against the Bears on Sunday."

And while Manning's practice Tuesday was his first since the team's organized training activities, Dungy and Wayne each said they were confident Manning's 10 years experience in the offense would ease the return.

"We'll be all right," Wayne said. "We know what he's capable of doing and vice versa. He's one of the makers of this offense, so I don't think it will be hard for him to adjust. We have to get him in there and wear his arm out a little bit and get him ready. He's been doing it forever, since was about six-years old in his back yard. It shouldn't be hard to go. We just have to make sure he's 100 percent and ready to go.

"We've been doing it for a while. Him and (wide receiver) Marv(in Harrison) have been doing it since 1998 and this is my eighth year. You get used to seeing him back there throwing it."

Said Dungy, "It certainly is different than if it was a rookie or young players or a second-year guy. Peyton knows our offense, but it's a matter of being out there and getting a rhythm with the receivers and the linemen everyone and making sure he feels comfortable and ready to go.

"So far, so good. He has been on track with everything the coaches have asked. We have every reason to believe it's going to gel, but it is a little bit of uncharted water right now."

Manning said he wasn't sure how the layoff would affect his timing. He typically has taken nearly all snaps from center during the offseason, training camp and regular season, making the recent weeks the first time in his 11 NFL seasons he has missed significant practice time.

"All I've ever known is to be out there and take as many repetitions as I possibly could with these guys," Manning said. "I certainly did that this offseason. I had a very productive offseason and a good offseason with our

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