OPPORTUNITY KNOCKING

Keiwan Ratliff, out of the NFL less than 10 days ago, likely will make a second consecutive start for the Colts at cornerback Sunday. Ratliff said despite a slew of injuries at the position, he and the Colts' active corners don't see the position as an area of concern.

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Ratliff, Colts Corners Seek to Take Advantage of Opunity
INDIANAPOLIS – Keiwan Ratliff understands the perception.

Still, just because the Colts' cornerback understands why people see his position as an area of concern doesn't mean he agrees.

Ratliff, who was out of the NFL less than 10 days ago, likely will make a second consecutive start for the Colts Sunday, and partly as a result of his recently-unemployed status, some observers have focused on cornerback as one of the issues facing the team.

Ratliff said he gets that. But he said he doesn't take the same approach.

And he said the Colts' active corners don't, either.

"Honestly, if you were to ask any of us, we all feel like we can play in the league," Ratliff said Thursday afternoon as the Colts (4-4) prepared to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa., Sunday at 4:15 p.m.

"It's not one of those things where we feel like we're backups going into the game. We're not saying, 'We're down and teams are going to come at us.' We go into the game looking at it as if it's our opportunity to play and our opportunity to show want we can do.

"We want teams to come at us."

Ratliff, originally a second-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft by Cincinnati, was claimed by the Colts off waivers last November. He was released by the Colts on September 22 re-signed on October 7, the released again the October 22.

When starting cornerback Marlin Jackson sustained a season-ending knee injury in practice last Wednesday, the Colts called again. He signed the next day, and with nickelback Dante Hughes (ankle) and starter Kelvin Hayden (hamstring) unable to play, he started opposite Tim Jennings – who started the season as the team's nickelback – against the New England Patriots this past Sunday.

He likely will start again this week, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Thursday.

"It is a little hard to believe," Dungy said of Ratliff's sudden status as a starter. "That's how close it is. You go from being off the team to starting and playing the whole game on a national TV game. That's the state of the NFL, I guess."

Dungy said Ratliff's turbulent season was due mostly to circumstance.

"It's been a strange year that way," Dungy said. "I'm not one who really likes to make changes, but we've had some injuries and he has been in situations where we've had to solidify another position group because of injuries we've had. He's been the victim of tough luck.

"He continues to do well. He works hard, and does all you can ask."

Hayden, a starter last season and in the first four games this season, likely will miss at least another week, Dungy said this week, and he added Thursday the Colts "are still working it out" in terms of who will start at corner against the Steelers.

"I would think it would the same as it was last week," Dungy said.

Dungy said Hughes could play an extensive role in the Colts' nickel package.

"He's coming along and seems to be doing better in practice," Dungy said of Hughes. "If he's up, we'd certainly get him there."

Said Hughes, "We're just going to try to mix it up like we've been doing. However much I play is depending on the game situation. I'm pretty sure Keiwan's going to get the start this week. That's fine with me. I can just play whenever needed. . . .

"Since I didn't get a lot of practice last week, it's more conditioning than anything. That's what I'm trying to work through right now – getting my conditioning back. A week off is like a month off during the season."

Hughes, like Ratliff, said with Jackson out, the coming weeks could provide opportunity.

"I try to show my best out there every time I play, but with the injury situation, we don't know how long Kelvin's going to be out," Hughes said. "We just have to try to hold down the spot. . . . "It's more a trying-to-do-your-job thing. It's not really about me personally. I just want to step in and do the job like anybody else would."

Ratliff said for him, this week has a different feel than last week. Because it has been less turbulent, he said he has been able to focus on preparation.

"It's a lot different," Ratliff said. "Getting a chance to sit down and listen to what the coaches are saying, and the game-planning – getting a chance to know what we're trying to take away and what we're gunning for and things like that – rather than going into a game with one day's preparation and having the mentality of, 'I don't want to be the cause of a loss,' or, 'I don't want to be the cause of a big play.' Now, I have a better comfort level going into this game."

But the former University of Florida standout said he won't change his approach entirely. Part of the reason for his success last week, he said, was a more relaxed attitude that he said came about in part because of a revelation after his most-recent release.

Ratliff's mother during that time gave him some tapes from when he was played Pop Warner football. What Ratliff saw when he watched them was a player having fun.

"I'd see how I was going out there and basically kind of going through the motions and not having fun," Ratliff said. "Now, I came into it this time saying to myself, 'No matter what, I'm going to have fun playing football,' because I never know when I'll get another chance to play. Just going out and having that mentality will help me relax and just play.

"I've been back and forth here all year, and honestly, I got down, even when they would bring me back in the back of my mind I'd say, 'Well, I'm probably only here for a week,' or, 'Maybe two weeks.' That kind of took away from the way I was playing."

Now, Ratliff said no matter the perception among outsiders of the Colts' corners he plans to play each game with that attitude, and in so doing take advantage of a chance he wasn't sure would come again.

"This is my fifth year," Ratliff said. "I've had starts in Cincinnati here and there in situations like I'm in now, where guys get hurt and things like that. This is just another opportunity. A couple of weeks ago, I was at home, and now I'm here starting for the Indianapolis Colts in huge games.

"It's a chance for me to not only show the coaches and the owners, but even my teammates, that I can go out and contribute, and that I can help, and it's not really a step backward if they do put me in the game."

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