*Q: The Colts are in South Florida for the Super Bowl for a second time in four seasons. Same hotel, same practice facility and it's even raining again . . .
*A: (Laughing) Let's hope the outcome is the same.
Q: Can you talk a bit about the planning that goes into such a trip?
A: For the team, (Director of Football Administration) Steve (Champlin) was the point man, and he did a yeoman job trying to bring all of this together. You have to take many more people than you normally do on a road trip – probably about 25-to-30 more people than we do on a normal road trip. You have to make arrangements to house them for a week. It really helps that we know the facility and have been here before and they know us, so that has been very good. The office setup and the staff setup and the classroom setup has been easier than it normally would be. What you have to do is essentially set up a training camp for the better part of a week. We will actually move out of here on Saturday night and go to another hotel the night before the game, so it requires lots of effort, lots of logistics and, thus far, it has gone off without a hitch. This was the hardest part of it. The rest will pretty much take care of itself and (Senior Executive Vice President of Administration) Pete Ward and his people are working like crazy to make sure that families, when they get here on Thursday, have a good experience. Our focus, and for everyone on the trip, is preparing as best we can to play the game. We have all of the surroundings and the environment necessary to do so.
Q: Practicing at the Miami Dolphins' facility again as well . . . that has to help.
A: It helps greatly and they're great people over there. The equipment people are the best. The groundskeepers are terrific. They understand and are very professional, and you would expect that with a (Miami Dolphins Executive Vice President of Football Operations) Bill Parcells operation. We won't miss a beat over there. I suspect that, unless something goes wrong, (New Orleans Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager) Mickey Loomis and I have worked out a means of utilizing the bubble in the event of bad weather. That's part of what goes into it. Mickey and I had a conversation and said, 'What works for you in terms of practice? If we have to share the bubble, how would we do it?' There's more cooperation than you might think with a game of this magnitude. But we all recognize that we want to give each team the best shot. Those things, I think, will work themselves out and we'll have a good week of preparation.
Q: Strange weather in South Florida. It could be raining at the stadium and at the Dolphins' facility, it could be dry . . .
A: You never know. You can't control the weather, so no sense worrying about it – just go about your business.
Q: The big story is Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. What's the latest, or is there a latest?
A: There isn't 'a latest.' As late as (Monday) afternoon on the plane just before we arrived I spoke with our doctors and our trainers and they reiterated to (Colts Head) Coach (Jim) Caldwell and myself what they have told us all week: he has a low ankle sprain, not a high-ankle sprain, which is far more severe. It's a basketball-type sprain, which means you sort of roll it to the outside. The prognosis with a 'normal' person would be 2-to-3 weeks. Dwight is a notoriously fast healer because he works so hard to get himself ready. As a result, they say he's 50-50 – which is questionable. That's the way we've listed him since last Monday or Tuesday – whenever we were required to file a report. That's the way I presume we'll continue to list him.
Q: You've seen or heard just about everything in the reports on this one . . .
A: I can't speak to anything but what the doctors who have read the MRI and the trainers who have actually had their hands on Dwight have to say. Their record of correctness in prognosticating how players will do is phenomenal. That's one of the reasons we've been able to manage the roster as well as we have over the course of this and other seasons. There's no reason for me to believe that what they're telling us is not right on the money. We'll see. He's 50-50. We'll know on Sunday.
Q: Early in the year, people had him out 2-to-3 weeks and he played the next Sunday . . .
A: That's correct. He does have a history of being a fast healer.
Q: The New Orleans Saints, this week's opponent, are very different than your two playoff opponents . . .
A: Markedly different, and in many ways, except for the size of their three interior offensive linemen, almost a mirror image (of the Colts) in some ways – great receivers, wide-open passing game, terrific quarterback in Drew Brees who delivers the ball quickly and gets it out of his hands quickly. He's very accurate and knows what kinds of coverage he's reading. He's quite mobile when he wants to be, although he doesn't try to do that for a living. He's very, very skilled and practiced in the scheme that (Saints Head Coach) Sean Payton has installed). The big kid from Hofstra (wide receiver Marques Colston) is their No. 1 guy. Devery Henderson has the world-class speed to go get the ball. (Tight end Jeremy) Shockey is still Shockey – a deep threat down the field and a great, acrobatic catcher – not dissimilar to (Colts tight end) Dallas (Clark). They have three really good running backs and they run the ball well. (Running back) Reggie Bush is the big-play threat either out of the backfield, in the kicking game, returning punts or in a lot of cases, running the ball. He'll be rested. The extra week of rest will help him, so expect to see a lot of him. He's very dangerous in the screen game and the draw game. Defensively, their front four is really active. (Tackle Anthony) Hargrove and (defensive end Will) Smith looking at tape are really top-notch pass rushers. Not that the others aren't, but those guys really stand out. They're akin to (Colts defensive ends) Robert (Mathis) and Dwight (Freeney). (Linebackers) Jonathan Vilma and (Scott) Shanle and (Scott) Fujita can all run – witness the fact that they stay on the field the whole time. They don't use a steady diet of dime or stuff like that. They leave those guys on (the field) quite a bit. Both corners – (Tracy) Porter, from IU (Indiana University) and their other corner (Jabari Greer) – are excellent man-to-man cover guys. They do a lot of that because they have a lot of exotic and effective blitz packages. (Darren) Sharper, of course, is a Pro Bowler, and has many of the same qualities (Ravens safety) Ed Reed does. He's a ballhawk and he reads offenses very well, reads routes very well. They're coached to read routes very well. Randall Gay, the third corner, can really cover. They have a group of really good players who all can run and who are all physically tough. They're well, well-coordinated and scripted by Gregg Williams, who does lots of interesting blitz combinations to give you a lot of trouble with pickups. It's not dissimilar to what Rex Ryan did with the (New York) Jets) and what (the) Baltimore (Ravens) did. In that sense, even though their personnel is not quite as stout as Baltimore's – although their nose tackle – Remi Ayodele – is a guy no one knows about, but he's a very, very good player. He's very, very stout. But by and large, the rest of them are upfield rushers, like our guys are. They defend the run exceptionally well. The three linebackers are all big and run exceptionally well. Vilma can run like blazes. The others are not too far behind. The secondary does a great job of covering, which allows Sharper to do his thing. He intercepts the ball. He's the Ed Reed of this defense, so in that sense, while not a mirror image, very similar to what we've played in the two previous games.
Q: It seems like with the teams' offenses, these two defenses really get overlooked . . .
A: That's always the case. Knowing Gregg Williams as I do, I was convinced before looking at tape that they had a very good defense, but when I looked at the tape, it's pretty clear they have really good players. It's well-coached and it's well-coordinated. The title, 'Defensive Coordinator,' can sometimes be a misnomer. In this case, it's not. He coordinates everything they do – the coverage, the fronts, the blitzes. It's well put together. Lots of it is very, very creative. It gives you a lot of problems. You have a lot of studying to do and a lot of practicing to do to pick up what he does. Then, of course, I'm sure with two weeks to prepare he'll have some surprises for us. In that regard, it's going to be a game of, 'Let's see what they're going to do to us.' We won't know until well into the first quarter, the first couple of series, what he has in mind. Offensively, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them come out and try to run the ball, because their middle three – the center, (Jonathan) Goodwin, and the two guards . . . the right guard (Jahri Evans) has made it to the Pro Bowl and for my money, the left guard (Carl Nicks) is equally good. They are giants – 370-pound guys. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see them come out and try to run the ball and base everything off their running game. They can do it really well. Pierre Thomas cycles it up in there every bit as well as (Shonn Greene) of the New York Jets. Reggie's the change up. This is a team that deserves to be here in all three phases. Of course, with Reggie Bush in the punt-return game, they have a game breaker. In all three phases, they're outstanding. They are the best team and they deserve to be here.
Q: This is the first time since 1993 the No. 1 seeds in each conference have advanced. Anything to that . . .
A: Sometimes, the seeds can be a little bit skewed because of schedule or perhaps early-season injuries and things of that nature. A team can get healed up and come down the stretch well such as we did the year we won the Super Bowl as Bob Sanders got healthy at the end. We made some changes in the defensive lineup and got that improved a bit. Sometimes, the seeds can be misleading. I think in this particular case, they were not misleading. These two teams got here because their records indicated they were the two best teams in the conference. Both teams played that way during the playoffs.
Q: Sanders is here this week and looking good. Any way to activate him for Sunday?
A: (Laughing) I wish we could. It would be nice to have him at nickelback.
Q: You mentioned Porter from Indiana earlier . . .
A: He really can run. We scouted him heavily when he was at IU, obviously. He has developed lots of technique and lots of confidence, and he's playing with a lot of confidence. They all do back there. Sharper probably contributes to that and Gregg has been a defensive backfield coach before in his career. You see the results of it. They're clean. They do things in a very, very efficient manner. Their techniques are good. They're well-coached.
Q: How is WR-Anthony Gonzalez?
A: He will be in good shape for next year. He's rehabilitating. His offseason home is down here, so he has been down here virtually the whole month of January rehabbing. He's working hard at it. I'm sure come the OTAs in the spring, in summer school, he'll be ready to go.
Q: A lot of the guys on injured reserve look like they could go right now . . .
A: We should be, if anything, perhaps improved next year. Now, that doesn't guarantee anything. Every year is a new season and every team has its own journey and writes its own story. But we should have the vast majority of those injured guys back and that will help greatly. And, of course, the fellows who have played in their stead will also be in good shape. Anticipating what might be a question from some people, Bob would not be ready to play now. He has been away too long and there would be too much of a conditioning issue to put him out there now. He may be healed from the surgery well enough, but the conditioning level is too low. You can't be away from football virtually for a year and then come back. That's very difficult. That was the reason we put him on injured reserve. It was just about this time when he would have healed up, but no one anticipates you'll go this far, No. 1, and No. 2, his having been out all of that time, timing and issues like that would have come into play. You don't want to put a player out there who is not 100 percent and ready to go. That's why we have training camp. Even if he healed this week, he would still probably need two or three more weeks to get conditioned and ready to play football. That's the reason we put him on injured reserve – (linebacker) Tyjuan (Hagler) is in the same exact boat. (Cornerback) Marlin (Jackson) will be a long time yet before he's ready to go back on the field – probably next summer. Anthony is going to require a little more time. I don't think we were premature in making those injured reserve moves.
Q: Plus, roster spots were at a premium. You needed the roster space.
A: We did. You don't like to make moves and lose a player if there's a chance you can get them back, but there comes a point where the human body needs a certain amount of hard knocks and conditioning to go out there and play football, much less in a game of this magnitude. So, none of them would have been fully ready to play in this game.
Q: What do you think the odds are that the Saints will use some Wildcat Formation Sunday?
A: They actually have a little bit of an offshoot of that where they run that speed sweep with Reggie Bush. Drew is in the shotgun the way the Wildcat quarterback would be. Then, they run Reggie Bush across on a speed sweep. It's really little different than what the Jets showed us. Hopefully, we'll be more wide awake. Reggie Bush can throw it. We have to be more wide awake on that one. But for those two big plays (against the Jets), which were purely mental mistakes on our part, that (AFC Championship Game) would have probably been less close than it was. We're prepared for it. Obviously, Sean is a very creative coach. You can do a lot of things, including run the option, with Drew Brees and Reggie Bush back there. We're prepared for a good part of it. The nice thing is we've seen it before in the two previous weeks. We're prepared to handle it.
Q: Is it best to get the game plan put in before you get to the Super Bowl site?
A: Our feeling always has been that – and a lot of this is the compilation of everyone's experiences; (assistant coaches) Frank (Reich) and Pete Metzelaars as players; (kicker) Adam Vinatieri as a player; (quarterback) Peyton (Manning) and others who were on the first Super Bowl team for us. Jim's experience as a coach. (Senior Offensive Coordinator) Tom Moore's experience as a coach. You bring all of those experiences to the table and say, 'OK, what's the best way to prepare?' We found that the best way to prepare for us is to do a little installation back at the facility where you have concentration, where you have quiet, where you have total focus on football and no outside influences or outside incursions to worry about. Then, hopefully, as an organization if we've done our job, we've gotten them to the point where there will be no ticket, room, flight difficulties for their families, so that the only thing will be out of the ordinary will be the timing of the press availabilities, which take place here. That's very different than they are back home, when we do it from 12-12:45. Here, we'll be doing it from 8 until 9 or so in the morning. That should be the only drawback. We kind of like that, because once the football day begins it's not broken up by anything. We just go from there. This is a team that concentrates and focuses, so I don't think we'll have any problem with that. Jim did want, and we had the experience last time around, that if you install some rudiments of the game plan back home then you have less to do here when there's just a little less quiet.
Q: What happened to former Colts defensive end Marcus Howard?
A: Unfortunately, he didn't reach the level where we felt he could make a major contribution for us. We thought that what he could bring to the table because of his size – both height and girth – was he could be an outside rusher in the mold of Robert Mathis and the kind of special teams contributor that Robert Mathis was when he first came up, which was among the best in the league. He couldn't quite get it together on special teams and we found that for a man who is a little bit short, he did not have what we call the requisite bore – the ability to turn the corner – that both Dwight and Robert have. As a result, if he could beat the pass blocker on the first step he could get there, but if he got contacted at anytime during the rush, he would have a hard time escaping and turning the corner. In the end, we didn't feel he measured up the way we hoped that he would. He is now on someone's active roster, and would not have been available to us in any event, had we chosen to add an extra defensive end. Keyunta Dawson and Raheem Brock, we felt, were better players in terms of how we structured the squad in the beginning, and we see no reason to change at this moment. Jeff Charleston, who interestingly enough was beaten out by Keyunta Dawson, is here and playing well in a backup role for the Saints. That's great for him. He's a good player.
Q: Can you enjoy this week at all?
A: Not really. It will be fun when the families come on Friday. Saturday is a neat day. You get a chance to relax and see your friends and talk. It's great to see the excitement the families have for it. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for virtually everybody. We've had a chance to do it five times now. We're among the most fortunate people on the face of the earth, so that's all wonderful. I enjoy them enjoying that, but by the time we leave for the hotel Saturday night I will be my usual nervous self.
Q: Media Day on Tuesday is sure to be an experience – as always.
A: It will be interesting to see how they stage that. For those that don't know what this unique slice of Americana is, they have upwards of 5,000 media people credentialed and they represent everything from mainstream media like the Indianapolis Star and our flagship stations to E! Television and blog sites and American Idol. It's eclectic, to say the least. Goodness knows what kinds of questions are asked. It's a unique experience. I think the players get more of a kick out of it than the media people do.
Q: How did you feel about beating the Jets, and what was that experience like?
A: I came away with absolutely renewed and greater respect for the Jets than I did when we played them the first time. This is a team that is well-built by Mike Tannenbaum, their general manager. It's well-coached by Rex Ryan and their entire coaching staff. I believe their quarterback, Mark Sanchez, is going to be one of the next great quarterbacks in this league. He can do everything you want a quarterback to do physically and mentally, and emotionally he has what it takes. He's a competitor and a fiery guy. We saw that in spades in the two games against the Jets in Indianapolis. He's one of the bright stars of the future in the National Football League. They have a defense that is exceptionally well-coached. They lost their nose tackle, Kris Jenkins, who is among the best in the league, early in the season. Typical of a Rex Ryan team, it was Next Man Up for them. They stepped in and performed awfully well. In David Harris, they have a linebacker who is going to be a Pro Bowler very soon, if not already. He certainly is among the best in the league. Bart Scott is still a savvy, and very physical, hard-nosed veteran at the other inside linebacker spot. Calvin Pace does a nice job for them at the other outside linebacker spot. (Cornerback Darrelle) Revis has got all the publicity in the world and deservedly so. He's an exceptional corner – the heir apparent to Champ Bailey. In Jim Leohnard, they have a savvy, smart, hard-working, tuned-in safety – an instinctive safety who can do all of the things that Ed Reed can do, albeit he doesn't have quite the same speed Ed has. He has all the rest of it. So, it's an extremely well-conceived defense played by good players. Their offensive line is big and Shonn Green may be another Pro Bowler to come. He is tough. He just cycles it up in there and runs through people. Leon Washington, who is their home-run hitter, is on injured reserve. (Thomas) Jones is a fine back as well, so they have three really good backs. In the tight end, (Dustin) Keller, from Purdue, they have what amounts to a clone of (Colts tight end) Dallas Clark, so the whole structure of their team as Mark Sanchez develops – and what he needs to develop is savvy and experience, not competitiveness, not physical; he has all of that, it's just savvy and experience – as that develops, they will become a very, very good offensive football team and they're a great defense right now. They led the league in defense, so I came away very, very impressed – happy that we played as well as we did against a very tough opponent. I think the fact that they had to go the long way through San Diego and through the Wild Card round – Shonn Green got hurt early in the second half, which was a big factor in our favor. Had he been there I don't doubt that the game would have been closer and they certainly would have had more possession time than they did. It was a big sigh of relief and we felt, 'We just beat a good team here and one that's going to be good for some time to come – well-coached and very disciplined.' They're a really good team, and then of course, the fact that we're coming back here: for most of us in this business, and particularly for players who have short careers, it is the highlight of your professional life. When you get a chance to do it multiple times – this may be (Senior Offensive Coordinator) Tom Moore's seventh Super Bowl, I'm thinking. It's at least six. To do that is absolutely incredible. It never gets old, but for most of us, this is what we dreamed of when we were nine and 10 years old. In order to play well, you have to put those dreams aside and sort of put them in the scrapbook and take all the pictures you need to take early in the week and get ready to play the football game. But for all of us in this business, it is the thing we've aspired to since we've been grade-school boys. So, that experience is almost beyond words.
Q: And as you said, you have to enjoy it when it's at hand . . .
A: A lot of people spend their whole careers and never get here. If you're lucky enough to go to one, you've been awfully lucky – multiple ones, the good Lord has really smiled upon you. You should enjoy it, because it is a dream come true. When you first start playing the game, you hope that one day you'll be in the Super Bowl and we are. It's a magnificent feeling.
Q: There are still four teams that have not been . . . Different teams get there more often than the same team going back multiple times . . A: Because of Commissioner Tagliabue's foresight when the original Collective Bargaining Agreement came in in a really meaningful form, he urged (Players Association Executive Director) Gene Upshaw to make sure we maintained competitive balance, that the players got what was due them in terms of economics, but to make sure we maintained competitive balance. That was so that every fan in every city in the National Football League every year could feel like, 'Hey, my team might have a chance to make it and if not this year, next.' That has been the case. As many people have said, for us to stay where we have for 10 years – for us to say every year as we go to training camp, 'Well, our team has a chance to go to the Super Bowl' – or to have some analysts say, 'Well, if you don't make the Super Bowl it's a wasted season,' that's incredible. That's unheard of, because the system is designed for that not to happen. It's designed to really disrupt your team and not allow one team to win for a long period of time. It's great credit to our owner and our coaches and our players for us to have stayed up for as long as we have, but it points up the fact that you don't get these opportunities very often.
Q: With the firepower of New Orleans, what do you think about just going for it on every fourth down?
A: This fourth down issue is quite interesting. I know there's a professor at IU who is an advocate of going for it. I'm probably giving him short shrift, because I don't have his work in front of me, and I'm sure it's quite scholarly and statistically accurate, but the fact of the matter is those decisions cannot be made in a vacuum or even theoretically and they certainly cannot be made mathematically. If you sit down and run a mathematical simulation, you say over the course of a season, all things being equally, you're better off going for it on fourth down than punting the ball --- that may be true mathematically, but all things are never equal. One of the reasons that head coaches are head coaches is because they have to take into consideration the time of the game, the field position, the weather, the health of your squad, what your game plan calls for, what the matchups are and what you think your strategic position is going to be if you miss on fourth down. Because you frequently miss, and when you do, it can be catastrophic. None of the scholarly work or the editorial work that I've seen that advocates going for it on fourth down as a a steady diet – and I know there's a high school coach in Arkansas who does it – none of it takes into account the essence of pro football, which is matchups. If the matchup of the opponent's defensive line versus your offensive line is a bad matchup for you, the odds of you making it are probably one in 10, not what the statistical model says it is. You must always factor in what's going to happen if you miss, so it isn't as simple as, 'The Coach doesn't have the guts to go for it.' In fact, it is not that simple at all. It is very complicated. We have a high incidence of going for it. Peyton always wants to go for it. He'd go for it on fourth-and-17, but sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor. So, it's not as simple as it seems. On the surface, yes – and especially in a game like this if you're behind – and we've been behind – if you remember Tampa Bay, we went for it on every fourth down. That's the game situation dictating it. As a general rule, I think (New England Patriots Head) Coach (Bill Belichick) made the right call (against the Colts in November), given the circumstances, what he knew about his team, the injury situation, etc. Not that I have a right to have an opinion on it, but the fact of the matter is, he made that decision based on what he knew about his team at that particular time. I think that's what he said afterward. He was correct. The coach has to make the decision based on what he knows about the various situations at the time. He doesn't have the luxury of having a computer to figure it out for him. He has to have that computer in his head. There are a lot of sleepless nights for head coaches. They spend a lot of time thinking through those situations long before the game is played.
Q: Any thoughts on holding training camp at DePauw?
A: A letter came across my desk very recently addressing that subject. Obviously, our focus has been on getting here. So, it's not something we've addressed internally yet. We surely will. We'll see how it works out. We can't say 'yay' or 'nay.' We've had a great experience at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, but DePauw is a great place and we'll look into it. Beyond that, I can't really tell you anything, because our focus has been trying to get here.
Q: Any final thoughts on the game?
A: This has got to be, you would think, a high-scoring game. I would be very surprised if both offenses don't light it up simply because they're both among the best offenses in the National Football League. That's one part of it. Assuming the field is on good shape. Ed Mangan, the Atlanta Braves' groundskeeper, is here, and he does a phenomenal job, so I think they have a better than even chance despite the rain and other things to get it ready. Assuming a fast track, it should be an exciting football game. I'd be surprised if it wasn't. But you never know. But with these two quarterbacks, and the quality of these two offenses, I think you can look for an exciting matchup. Beyond that, it's hard to tell. We have a great deal of respect for them. They have a great defense. Much better than people know. We have a good defense, probably much better than people think. A lot of it can come down to who's healthy and who's not healthy and sometimes the way the ball bounces, as we remember in the last Super Bowl we were in. The bounce of the ball that night went their way in the first half and ours in the second, and all of a sudden, the game changed. I would expect a close game. My feeling is the two best teams are here. In that case, with these kinds of offenses, it should be exciting.