Fifth Preseason Game Imant for Final Roster Decisions, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS – The list is long. Quite long.
Tony Dungy, entering his seventh season as the Colts' head coach, said enough frontline players won't play because of injuries or otherwise that there wasn't time to read the entire list during his final meeting with the media before the team's final preseason game.
But Dungy said this much is also true:
With final roster decisions still to be made, the game is important.
"You do want to find out some things about guys," Dungy said as the Colts (1-3 in the preseason) prepared to play the Cincinnati Bengals (1-2) in the final 2008 preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium Thursday at 7 p.m.
"There are always guys who show up on this last game and you're hoping they can do some things for you. You see it in a game and that solidifies your decision-making. That's what we're looking for.
"We have some things we want to get accomplished."
One of the areas the Colts focused upon through the week, Colts middle linebacker and defensive co-captain Gary Brackett said, was continuing preparation for the September 7 regular-season opener against Chicago, preparation he said continued no matter who plays against Cincinnati.
"I think details (are important)," Brackett said. "It's not a time of year where you just want to relax and say, 'One more week. Let's get it over with and get to next week.' Those are the times things occur as far as injury, or you get mental lapses.
"You definitely want to sprint to the finish line. For us, it's important to get a good week of practice and practice on some things and get another good week of practice and keep building on what we've done this offseason."
The Colts, because they played in the preseason-opening Hall of Fame Game, will play one more game – five – this preseason than most NFL teams. They started training camp with six players – including quarterback Peyton Manning, defensive end Dwight Freeney and safety Bob Sanders – on the Physically Unable to Perform list, and while those players are now practicing, injuries throughout the preseason have continued to develop as a concern.
Center Jeff Saturday sustained a knee injury this past Sunday that Dungy said this week will keep him out at least one game and perhaps more, and several starters – cornerback Kelvin Hayden, offensive guard Ryan Lilja, defensive end Raheem Brock, defensive tackle Ed Johnson, linebacker Freddy Keiaho and defensive end Robert Mathis – missed Sunday's loss to the Buffalo Bills with injuries.
Referring to Thursday's game against Cincinnati, Dungy said with a smile, "I can give you the list of the guys who will play and it will probably be shorter."
"We're going to keep most of our first group out," he said.
Also out Thursday, Dungy said, will be starting quarterback Peyton Manning and backup Jim Sorgi. Manning returned to practice this week after missing the first four preseason games after undergoing bursa-sac surgery 10 days before training camp, and Sorgi missed the Buffalo game because of a gimpy knee.
Jared Lorenzen and Quinn Gray split time at quarterback against the Bills, and although Dungy said Gray likely will start he said both will play against Cincinnati.
Dungy said how many quarterbacks the Colts keep on the final roster – two, three or four – likely will depend on the medical reports of Manning and Sorgi.
But Dungy said his message to the team this week focused not on quarterbacks or injuries as much as the opportunity for young players to solidify a roster spot.
With veteran cornerback T.J. Rushing sustaining a season-ending knee injury against Buffalo, Dungy said punt/kick returner is an area of focus, with rookie Pierre Garcon, veteran cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, veteran wide receiver Devin Aromashodu and veteran wide receiver Courtney Roby each having returned kicks or punts in the preseason.
"You have things you think you know how they're going to go," Dungy said. "You have some spots you still want to see. I told our guys, 'For the most part, when you get to those last eight or nine spots on the roster, there are a number of guys who can fill that role.' You want to see who can do a number of things. That's what this game will be about.
"We'll have some young guys who will play more than they've normally played. They'll play in different spots on special teams. We've got to get our return situation squared away and see who that returner is. That's going to be a big part of it. That will impact a few other decisions depending on if the returner is a wide receiver or a running back or a defensive back.
"Who can play multiple positions – that's what you're looking to see in this last game."
The Colts this week trimmed the roster from 80 to 75 players, and must trim to the NFL-mandated regular-season roster limit of 53 by Saturday.
"It's kind of a two-fold purpose week for us – getting ready for (the season opener) and trying to formulate our roster and get down to the best 53-man team for us," Dungy said. "I told our guys at our meeting (Tuesday) morning that that was really the major focus of this game, trying to figure out what group was going to give us the best opportunity to have a great team in the regular season. That's not always keeping the best players, but guys who can be versatile, guys who can do different things on special teams. So, there will be a lot of things we're trying to see Thursday night that will help us make those final decisions.
"We've looked at a lot of things – from OTAs (offseason organized team activities) on forward and we want to come out with the best team. With that in mind, we're pushing forward."