A Weekly Conversation with Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy
Each week during the 2008 regular season, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy will discuss topics pertinent to the Colts with Colts.com.
Question: Here it is, the week of your seventh regular-season opener as the head coach of the Colts. You spoke to the media Monday and talked about the excitement of the season opener. That's real for you, isn't it – even after 13 seasons.
Answer: It is. It puts you into a little different mode. The first part is training camp and evaluation and trying to get the squad ready. You're really looking more at your guys, which is fun, but now – starting Monday – you're starting to look at other teams and attacking them and figuring out how they're going to attack you and defending them. It just puts you into a different mindset and it is fun.
Q: Every year, there are a host of preseason issues. This season, obviously, it was injuries and surgeries of several top players – including quarterback Peyton Manning. And each year, everything sort of funnels toward the regular season. In that sense, is it almost a relief to be here?
A: You have a lot more things to worry about in training camp. Then, when you come to the regular season, you're just focusing on, 'OK, here are the resources we have. What can we do to win this game?' It is kind of a relief.
Q: You've never been one – even during this season's training camp – to spend a lot of time worrying about players who aren't available. But it seems like this year you sort of went about your business knowing players such as Peyton, safety Bob Sanders and defensive end Dwight Freeney would be ready in time . . .
A: You kind of think that's happening, but if it doesn't, it really doesn't change anything. Right now, we're just looking at, 'What can we do and how can we get ready for the Bears?' It is nice to be one-track minded rather than thinking about, 'Will this guy go?' or 'should that guy play?' or 'are we going to put this guy on PUP?' or 'are you going to claim this guy on waivers?' or 'how is this person doing?' You really kind of have your roster set. You have your guys and it's just, 'Now, we're going to get ready to play.'
Q: You sort of said throughout the offseason and training camp that when you looked at the roster from top to bottom, this bunch was as good as any roster you've had entering a season. Still feel that way?
A: I think it's a good group. I really do. From top to bottom, we've got some guys who can really do some things to help us. You're excited about some of the new guys we've added, some of the young linemen – (running back) Mike Hart and some of the young defenders. So, yeah, I think it is going to be a fun group to work with.
Q: There were a lot of guys released by the team – defensive end Jeff Charleston, safety Brannon Condren, running back Kenton Keith – who had played in the past and played well. You cut some people who can play in this league . . .
A: You agonize over some of those decisions and you know these guys can play in the league. From that standpoint, if you look at it that way, it probably was our best group we've had from 54-to-60.
Q: And that's always the toughest day, isn't it?
A: It is. You're trying, No. 1, to be sure you're doing the right thing. You're not always sure of that. There's potential versus performance and where guys can go and chemistry and all of those things that fit into it. Then, the relief is sort of that that is behind you and you can move forward.
Q: You've said before you're very excited about this team. Again, what it is about this bunch that really gets you fired up entering the season?
A: You want to see their potential. You like what you've seen. You like the work ethic and the athleticism and the ability. Now, can we put it together? Can we be a team that's on top of the details, that works hard week in and week out and stays focused on the task? If we do all of that, we can be very good.
Q: Speaking to the media on Monday, middle linebacker Gary Brackett said the coaching staff does a great job every year of saying the same thing differently enough to keep the veterans from growing tired of the message. That's something you focused on this year, wasn't it?
A: I thought about it because it was Year Seven and Year Seven for several guys and Year Four and Five for a lot of guys. That does go through your mind, 'How do I make these same points, but in a different way?' I just said, 'What is it that I'm trying to get across?' Details are imant, but how can I say that details are important without just saying, 'We have to be on the details?' You wonder, 'What stories you can tell?' and, 'What examples can you use?' Fortunately, you see a lot of examples, whether it's the Olympics or the NBA Finals or whatever. You just try to use different little things to make those same points.
Q: This team has been so good in September and October since you arrived in 2002. People sometimes forget that when you coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2002, that wasn't always a fast-starting team. How much different is a season when you start fast?
A: It definitely helps you. I think the reason was that we were a defensive team in Tampa and defenses are usually ahead of the offenses early. Here, our offenses have been so veteran and so good that we've been able to get off to good starts with our offenses. We haven't turned the ball over a lot so we get those good starts while other people's offenses are catching up. That has helped us, so all of a sudden, you're at a point where you have the cushion in November and December and the pressure is on your division rivals. They feel like they have to play perfect to catch you. That's a good position to be in. We won them the other way in Tampa, but it's harder.
Q: You've said that often over the years, that having that veteran offense helps in so many situations – early in the season, on the road, in the playoffs. It really gives a team an edge, doesn't it?
A: Usually, that's the case. Games get higher-scoring as you go on in the year. We've been able to come out and put points on the board in September. That's really the biggest reason for our success early.
Q: You hear and read sometimes that out of all the regular-season games, the season-opener has the most potential for weirdness and odd outcomes. Do you subscribe to that theory?
A: It can be that way, especially in some situations. This one, I don't think, will be that way. You have two teams that know each other. They're veteran teams. The coaches kind of have the same philosophy. It's not as if the Bears are going to hide something and save it for us and spring it on opening day. Many times you're playing a team with a new coach or you're playing a team with a new coordinator or a team where you're not sure, exactly, what they're going to do. You haven't really seen it all. They haven't done in the preseason necessarily what they're going to do in the regular season, but in this case, they know what plays they're going to face. They know what our defense is going to look like. We know the same thing about