Improvement Needed in Final Week of Preseason, Manning Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Nearly two weeks remain before the start of the regular season.
As Colts quarterback Peyton Manning sees it, how much he does or doesn't play Thursday in the preseason finale matters far less than how the team uses those two weeks. Because those two weeks include a lot of practice time.
And as Manning sees it, that time must be used wisely.
"I think we need to use these next two weeks of practice," Manning said Monday when asked about the final 2010 preseason game, in which the Colts (0-3) will play host to the Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) at Lucas Oil Stadium Thursday at 7 p.m.
"I would say that's true every season. We're still in training-camp mode this week, still working on things, still installing things. We have two weeks left and we have to use every week of these practices to get ready for (the regular-season opener against) Houston (on September 12)."
The Colts, who typically use the third preseason game as a dress-rehearsal for the regular season, take a different approach with the preseason finale, in recent seasons playing starters and front-line players sparingly or not at all.
Manning hasn't played in the Colts' preseason finale since 2004, and last season, all but two starters missed the preseason finale.
Head Coach Jim Caldwell said the Colts are unlikely to deviate from their past approach.
"We're still trying to get better each and every week in all phases," Caldwell said. "This game in particular, we're trying to make sure we get guys in the right position to do our evaluations. We're still looking for execution as well."
Manning, who said he doesn't know how much he will play and that he often doesn't know until the day before or night of the preseason finale, said this week likely will be more about the Colts working to improve than focusing on Cincinnati.
"This week always has been treated as a 'get-the-Colts-better week,' Manning said. "Unlike the third game, where we truly do game plan and get ready and treat it like a game, with this fourth week we are focusing on the Colts and getting better."
Caldwell and President Bill Polian this past weekend discussed the imance of the preseason finale for player evaluation.
"There is obviously some serious evaluation on certain guys that they're looking at – who's going to start, who's going to make the team," Manning said. "The coaches are trying to get a lot of different looks at different guys and putting guys in competitive situations."
The Colts this past Thursday lost to the Green Bay Packers, 59-24, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., a game in which Indianapolis' first-team offense scored on three of their first four drives and also gave up possession four times on punts and once on a fumble.
Manning said maintaining drives is a priority.
"We had a couple of good drives and just weren't able to finish some of the other ones," Manning said. "We're just working on finishing drives and being able to put 10-12 good plays in a row as opposed to five or six good plays and maybe a negative play or a run for zero yards or an incompletion or a penalty, which are all potential drive-stallers.
"That's always been the case during the course of a season – you have to be able to finish drives."
Caldwell said Monday while the status of several injured players is improving, no specifics were known on players such as center Jeff Saturday and left tackle Charlie Johnson, each of whom started last season and missed the first three preseason games.
"It's been an opportunity for other guys to step up and play, and there's no question you're going to need depth throughout the course of a 16-game season," Manning said. "I hope we've taken advantage of some of the injuries and tried to turn it into a positive to give some other guys a chance to play."
Overall, while Manning said there is still progress to be made, "It's been a good training camp."
"We've gotten good work done," he said. "We've had a number of injuries, which has put new guys in there, which I think in the long run can be a positive. . . . Guys who are going to have to play for us down the road in critical situations – I think those have been positives to get those guys so much work.
"We're still deciding the roster, and still deciding what injured guys are going to be available. We're still tinkering with some of those things, so I think there are still two good weeks to prepare and to get better."
Manning also on Monday addressed a change in mechanics the NFL installed in the off-season mandating that the umpire – who often places the ball for the center-to-quarterback snap – line up behind the quarterback rather than in the area of the linebackers except in the final two minutes of each half.
The league has told teams quarterbacks are to wait to snap the ball until the umpire has lined up behind the deepest offensive player. Against Green Bay, the Colts twice were penalized for snapping before the umpire had cleared the running back.
Polian this past weekend called the situation a work in progress, and said he doesn't believe the Colts' offense will be hurt.
"We'll have to deal with it, whatever the final outcome is," Manning said. "I think everybody's looking for this dramatic impact it's going to have on us. If we don't win a game, it's not going to be because of that rule. . . .
"I do think because they said it's a work in progress that the preseason was the time to experiment and to see what it is and to show them the potential pitfalls and negatives. I hope they take those things into account for all teams.
"I've talked to some other quarterbacks and they said they've had similar frustrations with it."