Dungy Optimistic Colts Still Growing and Improving
INDIANAPOLIS – As Tony Dungy sees it, the future is what matters.
Dungy, entering his seventh season as the Colts' head coach, did what many around the team's football operations did the past several months. He watched tape of last season, in which the Colts finished 13-3, winning the AFC South and losing to San Diego in an AFC Divisional Playoff game.
He analyzed. He reviewed.
He tried to figure just where the Colts have been, where they are now, and most imantly, where they are going, where they need to improve.
And as he has done in each of his seven off-seasons with the franchise, following his study of the previous season, Dungy sat down recently with Colts.com to discuss each position group – from quarterbacks to safeties to special teams.
His thoughts and analysis will be featured in a series of stories scheduled to run on Colts.com this month beginning with a story on the team's quarterback position later this week.
Dungy's overall thoughts on the season just past, and the future?
The past season, he said, was solid, and the Colts accomplished a lot.
But he said the future is what matters.
And he said even with five consecutive AFC South titles, and even having become the first team in NFL history to win 12 games in five consecutive seasons, there is plenty of opportunity for improvement.
"I think we can play better," Dungy, who will enter his 13th season as an NFL head coach next season, said as he and the Colts' coaching staff continued to prepare for the coming season.
"I think the team is still growing and improving."
Reviewing the past season, Dungy said the team's injury situation – though not an excuse for any particularly loss – clearly hurt at times.
Wide receiver Marvin Harrison missed 11 regular-season games with a knee injury, and defensive end Dwight Freeney missed the last seven games on injured reserve with a foot injury. Harrison has played in eight Pro Bowls; Freeney, three. Defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland and linebacker Rob Morris, starters against the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl the previous seasons, missed the entire season and the last three months of the season, respectively.
In all, nine players – five on offense and four on defense – started every game.
"I thought we played well," Dungy said. "I thought we played hard and consistent. I don't think we played as well as the team was capable of playing because we had so many different lineups."
At the same time, Dungy said winning 13 games – the Colts' second-highest victory total during his six seasons – was just one of several significant accomplishments.
The Colts started 7-0 for a third consecutive season, then lost to eventual division winners New England (24-20 in Indianapolis) and San Diego (23-21 in San Diego) by a combined six points. Indianapolis led then-unbeaten New England by 10 points with less than eight minutes remaining, then rallied from a 21-point deficit against San Diego, missing a chance to take a late lead when kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a 29-yard field goal with 1:31 remaining.
The Colts then won six consecutive games – the sixth winning streak of five or more games in Dungy's six seasons – before losing to playoff participant Tennessee, 16-10, in a regular-season finale. The Colts entered the Tennessee game having clinched the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, and most of their starters did not play into the second half.
"I look back and we had 13 wins," Dungy said. "A lot of them were double-digit wins. We had a game we lost by four points, another game we lost by two and another game we lost by six points. We had three games we lost by less than a touchdown and had nine games we won by two scores. To play that way, most of the time you'd say we had an exceptional year.
"I thought we did (have an exceptional season) under the circumstances, but we probably didn't play as well as the year before because of the injuries and a lot of the different lineups.
"There was no Super Bowl Hangover. We played well. We played together. We played hard. We played focused. All of those things you like to see. Now, we have to come in and realize we can still improve. I think we will."
The Colts recently re-signed tight end Dallas Clark, safety Bob Sanders and guard Ryan Lilja, moves Colts President Bill Polian said likely will represent the majority of their off-season activity. The NFL free agent period began last Friday, a period in which the Colts typically have not been active in recent seasons, and one Polian said he prefers to avoid.
Of the four starters from last season whose contracts expired after last season, only offensive guard Jake Scott remains unsigned. Polian said during the combine although Scott would be welcome back to the Colts with "open arms," he said he expects Scott to test free agency.
With Scott unsigned, 20 of the Colts' 22 playoff starters are either under contract or have received tender offers. The exceptions are Scott and defensive end Josh Thomas, an unrestricted free agent who started in place of Freeney.
"I think we have a chance to be better," Dungy said, "because we have so many guys back. We have so many guys who got to play last year who will improve. I think our veteran guys are still very hungry, very professional: (center) Jeff Saturday, (middle linebacker) Gary Brackett, Marvin Harrison, (wide receiver) Reggie Wayne. Those guys are going to practice well. They're going to play well and be focused and dialed in. Then, you have so many guys like (rookie offensive tackle) Tony Ugoh, (rookie wide receiver) Anthony Gonzalez, (linebacker) Tyjuan Hagler, (linebacker) Freddy Keiaho, (safety) Antoine Bethea, (running back) Kenton Keith. Those guys really have a chance to improve.
"I think we can be better and should be better."