'THE HAY'S NOT IN THE BARN'

With three days remaining before Super Bowl XLIV, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said Thursday preparations are not quite complete.

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With Super Bowl XLIV Approaching, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell Says Plenty Still to be Done

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. – The bulk of the work has been done.

But Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said while that may be true – while much of the preparation for Super Bowl XLIV was, by design, done last week – the last three days leading to the season's biggest game were far from unimant.

There is tweaking to be done. There is speed to be regained.

Caldwell, who throughout the post-season has spoken of his philosophy of valuing speed, sharpness and freshness above nearly all else, said mostly the last few days are about just plain making sure the Colts are ready to play a football game Sunday evening.

A real big football game.

"The hay is not in the barn," Caldwell said early Thursday morning as the AFC Champion Colts (16-2) prepared to play the NFC Champion New Orleans Saints (15-3) in Super Bowl XLIV at Sun Life Stadium Sunday at 6:25 p.m. "We still have a lot of work to do. We still have to be sharp and crisp.

"I think that's extremely important."

The Colts, who had their first practice of the week Wednesday, practiced for a second consecutive day at the Miami Dolphins' practice facility Thursday, with guard Ryan Lilja, defensive end Dwight Freeney and cornerback Jerraud Powers listed on the team's injury report as not practicing.

"Every time I wake up in the morning I reassess the situation," Freeney said. "I'm just feeling it out. It's starting to feel a little better and it is starting to look more like an ankle now. . . . I think my first attempt (to test the ankle), really, will probably be (Friday).

"I will probably go out and see what I can do tomorrow and then Saturday a lot more."

Freeney, along with Powers, missed for a second consecutive day, while Lilja missed practice with a back injury. According to a Pro Football Writer's Association pool report, Caldwell said he did not think the injury would jeopardize Lilja's status.

"I suspect he'll be ready to play,'' Caldwell told pool reporter Peter King of Sports Illustrated.

King reported that the extent of the injury to Lilja was unclear, and that Caldwell said Powers and Freeney each missed the entire practice while receiving treatment inside the Dolphins' practice facility.

"They're both improving rapidly," Caldwell said of Freeney and Powers.

Caldwell also said Thursday's session was a "typical Colts Thursday practice." He also said the team "wasn't as sharp as we'd like to be,'' though King reported that "you couldn't tell by the effectiveness of the first-team offense.

"In four nickel and two-minute offensive sessions in the last hour of practice, Peyton Manning completed 25 of 28 throws against a crew of Colt backups posing as the Saints scout (team)," King wrote. "His last throw in one of the two-minute sessions was a perfectly thrown rollout to Dallas Clark in the end zone. It was the second straight sharp practice for Manning, prepping for his second Super Bowl start in four seasons."

Added Caldwell, "If you watch us practice, the thing you notice with Peyton is the ball is not on the ground very often. The way he threw today was typical Peyton.''

King wrote that the "highlight for the defense was an interception off scout-team quarterback Curtis Painter by linebacker Clint Session on a deflected pass off the hands of backup receiver Hank Baskett. To the cheers of his defensive mates, Session picked the ball off and ran up the left sideline."

Caldwell earlier in the day said the practice also was "an opportunity for us to kind of show that we know the team in relationship to how we respond to their looks – what they do from an offensive and defensive standpoint and their kicking game.

"The real thing that we're talking about is really trying to get our speed back where it should be in terms of our crispness, in terms of our sharpness – limit our mistakes," Caldwell said. "I think that's extremely important, to execute properly. Those are the things that we're trying to focus in on this week."

The Colts on Thursday held their final full-team media session of the week. Caldwell will speak at the Super Bowl Head Coaches' Press Conference Friday morning, but when players spoke at their team hotel Thursday, it was their last availability before Sunday's game.

"This is certainly part of the whole week," Manning said during Thursday's media session. "Coach Caldwell gave us the itinerary early in the week and we know Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are going to be days where this is required, so you might as well have a good attitude about it.

"I think all of our players were happy (Wednesday) when we got back onto the football field and had practice. Now at least it feels like we're more into a more normal routine of meetings, practicing, watching film at night of the practice.

"So I know a lot of guys, I was getting the sense (Wednesday), were happy to get back on the field and kind of get back into some physical football stuff."

As has been the case much of the week, a major theme was the perception the Saints could be a sentimental favorite because of the impact of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath on the city of New Orleans and its citizens.

"I can't really worry about that," Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "We have a lot of fans ourselves that we're playing for. Obviously, with the destruction that New Orleans experienced, the whole world is rallying around for those guys. Football means a lot for their community. Our hats really go off to the Saints for what they did for that community, but on gameday, that's nothing that we can handle.

"We're going to do our best job to be the bearers of the black hats for a little while."

Manning, a four-time Associated Press National Football League Most Valuable Player and the MVP of Super Bowl XLI, said the idea for the rest of the week – particularly as the game draws near – is to maintain as much normalcy as possible.

"You certainly try to make it as normal a night as you can," Manning said. "Actually, I do remember I went to bed at 11 that night. I woke up at 11 – slept twelve hours, believe it or not. I was feeling pretty good until I opened my curtain and saw that monsoon outside Miami.

"That sort of woke me up pretty fast as it was looking like that rain was there to stay. I certainly hope for that again. I hope for that kind of peaceful night of sleep again this year. I think that is important. Sunday does become somewhat of a long day.

"The advice that I got all week, especially Sunday, is not to turn on the TV on, don't watch the pregame coverage. I was able to do that last year. I am sure I'll study a little bit. I feel like at that point there probably won't be much more film to watch. The hay will be in the barn."

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