'Next Man Up' Defined Colts' 2010 AFC South Championship Season


INDIANAPOLIS – The concept didn't have to be new to matter – a lot.

And as cornerback Justin Tryon learned quickly upon joining the Colts early this season, it doesn't matter how long people around the team have discussed it, or how often.

Next Man Up?

*           * That idea that a player – any player – must be ready at any time, and that every player on the roster be ready to contribute when called upon? And to do so at a high level?

That approach, any Colts fan knows, has been more than words around the Colts in recent seasons.

It has been a philosophy. And this past season?

Well, it's difficult to imagine how the the 2010 season might have played out had the Colts as a franchise long ago not accepted the idea that what matters is not a player's reputation, or name recognition, but how the player plays given the opunity.

In 2010, Next Man Up meant as much around the team as ever.

And, actually, maybe a little more.

"Everybody has to be ready – from the practice squad guys on up," Tryon said recently during the latter stages of the 2010 season, a season that ended with the Colts winning a seventh AFC South title in eight seasons and season on which will continue to look back in the coming weeks.

For the Colts, throughout the season, everyone was ready.

And not just roster players and practice squad players, either – although the Colts got contributions from those areas.

Jacob Tamme. Kavell Conner. Pat Angerer.

Jacob Lacey. Tryon.

Jeff Linkenbach. Tyjuan Hagler. Dominic Rhodes.

Javarris James. Blair White.

Aaron Francisco.

And the list goes on . . .

The Colts placed 18 players on injured reserve during the season, a list that included Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark, wide receivers Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez, safeties Melvin Bullitt and Bob Sanders and cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Kelvin Hayden. Not only that, but key players such as linebacker Gary Brackett, linebacker Clint Session and running back Joseph Addai missed extended stretches.

In their place, the above players – some of whom began the season as backups, some of whom began the season as practice squad players and some of whom were out of the NFL when the season began – played in their place, and played well.

They were, in the context of the Colts' 2010 season, "The Next Men Up," and many members of that group will be profiled on in the coming days.

That the Colts won this season despite injuries is no fluke, James said.

Being ready is a concept that's emphasized from the day a player signs with the Colts, and James said it's significant that it's not just coaches and management doing the emphasizing.

"I remember the first time we came here, all the rookies," James said, recalling a meeting of rookies shortly after last off-season's 2010 NFL Draft. "(Quarterback) Peyton (Manning) and (middle linebacker) Gary (Brackett) came and talked to us, and told us how they expect a lot of things from young guys, and draft picks. When you're in meetings, you learn everything, and it's not a thing where starters are learning more.

"Everybody helps each other, and when it's your time to step up, you have a feel for things."

James, who signed with the Colts as a rookie free agent from the University of Miami, said the Colts do more than talk about players needing to be ready. The coaches – and, as importantly, veteran players – focus on ensuring youth doesn't mean not being prepared.

"The coaching staff and the older players help out a lot," said James, who spent training camp and preseason with the Colts, then returned in mid-season after stints on the New England and Washington practice squads to make a significant contribution – and to do so within days of rejoining the team.

"They help as far as what to expect. Peyton takes you through every situation, so once you get out there, you feel comfortable. You're not going to get on the field unless you know what you're doing."

Next Man Up this season for the Cols favored neither side of the ball. For every players such as White and Tamme, who stepped in at receiver and tight end for more well-known, established players offensively, there was a player such as Francisco and Conner, who filled in at safety and corner, respectively on defense.

In the coming days on, such players will be profiled, and a closer look will be taken at just what Next Man Up meant to a franchise that won this past season despite adversity, and that kept alive a record-tying streak of nine consecutive playoff appearance.

To Francisco it meant being ready, being a professional, and it meant having a chance to – and believing he could – succeed no matter how what his situation many people knew his name.

Francisco, after playing extensively for the Colts last season, signed with the Carolina Panthers last off-season. He was then released after training camp, and when Bullitt and Sanders were injured early in the season, he rejoined the Colts.

Francisco started the final 11 games of the season.

"It's just a fact of life here at the Colts," Francisco said. "It's not good for the guys who get hurt, but it's good for the other guys who wouldn't normally have another opportunity.

"Here, guys get an opportunity to step up and show what they can do."

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