*Q: A 42-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday afternoon came a week after the 2009 bye week. So much for the rust . . .
*A: We said last week as long as we got three good practices in Wednesday, Thursday and Friday that we'd be all right in the ballgame, and that was the case on both sides of the ball. We played pretty well starting right at the outset. We had a little bit of difficulty in the middle, largely because they did such a good job defensing us. Boy, they're really well-coached, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Spags (Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo) does such a great job calling the game that he's always keeping you off-balance with different looks and different alignments. They did a wonderful job manipulating the clock moving when we were down to the nine-second area. That part of it was a good exercise for us and in the end, we still made plays. That was the most important part. It was good to get a win and we're looking forward to this next stretch of games, starting with San Francisco. It will be good to be home, and they're all good tests. That's what the NFL is all about.
Q: No homecoming games in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers are next. They put quarterback Alex Smith in the lineup and got things going in the second half against Houston Sunday.
A: That's right. Just in time for us. Alex Smith gives them a dimension they did not have, which is the ability to accurately throw the ball down the field and to escape from the pocket, too. He's very mobile. He can escape from the rush. With (rookie wide receiver Michael) Crabtree, who apparently has fit in quite well – I think he caught five passes Sunday – and when you couple that with (Frank) Gore, who's an outstanding running back – they represent a very difficult challenge. And, of course, they're good defensively. They have been ever since Mike Singletary stepped in there (as head coach). It will be a good battle.
Q: You got safety Bob Sanders back for 31 plays Sunday, and you also got cornerback Kelvin Hayden and offensive tackle Charlie Johnson back. It looked like all three fit right in.
A: Charlie had the least problem fitting in, because he only had been out one week. In Kelvin's case and Bob's case, I think you could see a little rust there and that's perfectly understandable. They've been out for a long period of time. It takes about two weeks to get the rust off and get the real feeling of being back into the unconscious flow of the game, where you don't have to think about what you're doing. You just react to what you see. That will come, but they both played well. Kelvin had a great interception to snuff out a drive. So, it's nice to see them back and hopefully, we'll get some of our other injured players back here in the not-to-distant future.
Q: The penalty against cornerback Jacob Lacey after his touchdown – can you explain the rule on that call?
A: I'll be happy to explain it. Three or four years ago, the NFL's Competition Committee changed the celebration rule to basically say two things – No. 1, you could not use the ball as a prop in anyway, nor could you use the goalpost, a pylon, or any other inanimate object that's on the field as a prop. You couldn't bring artificial props onto the field in any way. If you were going to do that, you had to do it in the bench area. And you could not go to the ground, because there were any number of demonstrations that were borderline offensive, and certainly had no part in the game, that all occurred on the ground. So, that's the rule. Jacob made a beautiful pop-up slide and called himself safe. And he got 15 yards for his trouble, and probably a fine. But it was a great play. It was a great break on the ball, great anticipation, great read on the route and the throw, and he'll learn a lesson from it.
Q: Lacey is just another example of a free-agent rookie who came in and really developed quickly . . .
A: In Jacob's case, he didn't have very far to go. He came in and made plays on the ball from Day 1 – as did (rookie cornerback) Jerraud Powers. It's not surprising at all that they have stepped in. It's certainly not surprising they made the team. You could almost bank on that coming out of minicamp, but in terms of being able to play at a high level in the National Football League, that's another point altogether. But they both have done exceptionally well. I'm really proud of them, happy for them, and they've made great contributions.
Q: A lot of young defensive tackles played extensively Sunday – Dan Muir, Fili Moala . . .
A: Dan Muir did exceptionally well. He had seven tackles. I think he had a half a sack. He hustled all over the place. He was the star of the defensive line. Mookie Johnson also did a terrific job, and of course, (ends) Dwight (Freeney) and Robert (Mathis) did their usual stellar job. Fili looked like a rookie playing his first ballgame. He had some good plays and some not so good, but he's a work in progress. He'll come along and be fine, and we're happy with the effort he gave. He's going to get better as the weeks go on.
Q: The special teams really have improved this season . . .
A: We had a good day on special teams. I was looking at the statistics earlier today. I don't look at the statistics until six games have been played, because I think anything less than that is not a large enough sample. We are point five or one yard – one or the other – behind our opponents in both punt-return average and kickoff return average, so in essence it's a wash. That's a huge change from last year. That's to the credit of everyone involved – (special teams coach) Ray (Rychleski), all of the players, the kickers – everyone has done the job. That, I think, will only get better as the year goes on. When you talk about, 'Where are the special teams?' last year we were three, four, five yards below our opponents in net average in each of the coverage areas. This year, it's almost dead even. That's a huge change. It's the old story: if you can get a standoff in special teams and you win one of the other two (phases) and you win the turnover battle, the odds are pretty good you're going to win the football game.
Q: The Colts are allowing a sack once every 109 passes. The protection has been remarkable.
A: We've given up two sacks and our opponents have given up 15, I believe. That's a ratio that is a hidden statistic but an exceedingly, exceedingly important one. (Hall of Fame Head Coach) Marv Levy used to believe and still does that the most important statistic in football after the turnover ratio – which is the most important – is average yards per pass attempt. I think our opponents are right around nine yards per pass attempt, which is a pretty impressive statistic. We're doing fine statistically, and the results speak for themselves on the field. We're doing a great job protecting and we're doing a good job rushing.
Q: Defensively, the Colts have allowed no touchdowns in the past two games. Scoring defense once again is solid . . .
A: We've been very good at that really for the past six or seven years. A lot has been made about rushing yardage and things of that nature, but we've been very good in scoring defense, and we continue to be. As Mike Murphy, our linebackers coach, is fond of saying, 'There's only one statistic that counts, and that's the number of points you give up.' He's right. We're doing well in that category. As a result, our record is what it is.
Q: Any early word on the status of wide receiver Reggie Wayne or running back Donald Brown?
A: Reggie told me Sunday night he felt good. I'm not even sure they gave him an MRI (Monday). They were going to see how he worked out when they tested him out. Donald had what they were calling a shoulder contusion. He was given some exercises to do. The feeling was it wasn't terrible. It was clearly a very painful contusion.
Q: Brown had a couple of really impressive runs Sunday . . .
A: He surely did. Give credit to the offensive line. In both cases, they blocked it up very well, but he hit the hole, and he hit it with authority. He made a great move down the sideline and came with in an eyelash of staying in and making one of those patented toe-dances down the sideline and scoring a touchdown. He was exceedingly patient waiting for the hole to open on the draw play, then he hit it 100 miles an hour. Unfortunately, he came down on his shoulder, but I think he won't be out for any significant length of time. We're looking forward to getting him the ball a lot more. He's a great football player.
Q: A very impressive throw in the first quarter from Manning to tight end Dallas Clark for the touchdown . . .
A: As someone said Monday, that was an All-World throw. First of all, he was under duress, then he had to lay the ball in between two defenders who had bracketed Dallas. He had to put it out in front so only Dallas could get it and he had to throw it with enough touch on it that Dallas could catch it. Only Peyton Manning can do those things. Mere mortals can't do that. What's the old joke? Don't attempt this at home?
Q: Is there any thought of moving wide receiver Hank Baskett to tight end?
A: Hank is a wide receiver. We're OK at tight end. We're in pretty good shape there. (Tight end) Jacob Tamme, by the way, is doing a great job on special teams. He has become a major factor as a big man on special teams, which really has been a great thing for us. We're fine there, and Hank, I'm certain, will stay at wide receiver. We'll work through that rotation as best we can. You can never have enough good players. That's the way I look at it. Hank stepped in and did a terrific job Sunday when Reggie got a little gimpy with a groin. That's what he's here to do. We'll just keep plowing ahead. We know we're going to need to use everybody before the season is over.
Q: Speaking of tight end, Gijon Robinson had a big game Sunday . . .
A: Gijon had a good day Sunday. He caught the ball very well. He blocked very well. Of course, he was going home to Missouri, so he probably had a little extra incentive there. I'm sure he had plenty of tickets, but it is good to see him play that way. That's what he's capable of doing. When he's confident in what it is he has to do, he plays awfully well. A lot of it is just growth. He came out of a Division II program – a big jump for him. He stepped in right away, and he's playing in a high-powered offense. We're in two-tights about 33 percent of the time, so he doesn't get a lot of snaps and it's difficult to get yourself grooved, but he's coming on and that's a good thing for us and a good thing for him.
Q: He's known as a blocker, but he may have gotten three first downs receiving Sunday . . .
A: He has very good hands and he can run. He is known as a blocker because people kind of typecast him as the blocking tight end, but he can run and catch and he does a terrific job.
Q: Another big year for Clark at tight end, too. It could be a Pro Bowl year for him.
A: That's absolutely right. The bottom line is the balloting. I'm told it began Monday on NFL.com, so vote early and often for No. 44, Dallas Clark. He deserves it among many others, but he's the most deserving because of all of our great players he's the only one who has not gone.
Q: Regarding kicker Adam Vinatieri, is he out for the season and what is his contract status?
A: I believe he has one more year left on his contract. We are not going to lose him for the year. He's out 4-to-8 weeks. I was with him Monday night and he was lifting weights and beginning to get into some serious rehabilitation. Knowing Adam, he's going to want to make it back before eight weeks, but as we've all learned from Tiger Woods, when you're involved in a swinging motion, it's best to let Mother Nature run her course and do things in her own way. We won't put a timetable on it, but he's in good spirits. The operation was a big success. He's moving forward. He'll be back long before the season's over.
Q: His replacement, Matt Stover, did a nice job Sunday . . .
A: Matt did a nice job Sunday – six for six (extra points). He looked great in the warmup, banging in there from 45-to-48 yards. So, we feel the job's in good hands until Adam gets back.
Q: The turnout among Colts fans was really impressive in St. Louis Sunday, was it not?
A: First of all, I'd like to say thank you to all of the people who went over there and made the trip. It was a really, really heartwarming experience and fun to see everybody over there. To hear that roar when we went out on the field – it was as though it were a home game. That was great. So, thank you, and we certainly appreciate all of the wonderful support. In terms of a similar experience, I believe in my first game here as general manager, we were playing the Miami Dolphins (in 1998). I had come from the Buffalo Bills. I had been in Carolina, which was an expansion franchise. I was used to seeing fans from the opposing team. You would expect that because there were no homegrown Carolina fans, but in Buffalo, if you saw five people from the opposing team, it meant they were the five bravest souls in that city, to show up in Ralph Wilson Stadium wearing the other team's colors. I walked out onto the field and it looked like two-thirds of the building was filled with Miami Dolphins jerseys. I said to one of our staff people, 'What goes on with this?' He said, 'It happens all the time. Miami has a great following here. It probably dates back to the fact that Bob Griese was from Purdue.' I didn't see any Bob Griese jerseys, but I saw a lot of (Dan) Marino jerseys. Fortunately, that isn't the case anymore. The whole building is blue and white thanks to Peyton and (former Head Coach) Tony (Dungy) and (Owner and CEO) Jim (Irsay) and all of the people who work so hard to sell football here in Indianapolis and in Indiana. Now, this ranks as the second- or third-toughest place to play in the league, and that's a tribute to our fans. A small anecdote about our postgame Sunday, we got on the buses and there had to be 500 or so people waiting for autographs. As each player came out, they stopped and went through the TSA screening, which we're required to do, and went back around again and signed autographs. Peyton was the last one out as you'd expect because of all of the media stuff he has to do. He must have signed for 20 minutes. There was a young boy on his father's shoulders. He had a sign that said, 'My father had John Unitas, No. 19 and I have Peyton Manning, No. 18.' A couple of us pointed it out to the security people. They got the sign and Peyton signed it for the young boy. It was a heartwarming moment.
Q: It does seem as if the Colts draw well on the road these days . . .
A: As the saying goes in college football, 'We're traveling well now.' We have a lot of people who travel and build their fall vacations around our games. Arizona was an obvious destination because it's a good time to go out there and play golf and have a four- or five-day vacation and catch the Colts in the process. We're glad for the support and look forward to it.
Q: Sanders went in early at halftime. Was he OK?
A: He was perfectly fine. He was just going in to get some treatment to keep himself loose and everything was fine. He went in a little early at the end of the game as well to get some stimulation on the knee and to keep his quad muscles loose, but he was perfectly fine. No problems at all.
Q: What are your thoughts about the NFL possible expanding to London?
A: I think there is lots of conjecture about this, that when push comes to shove doesn't get translated into fact. The league decided about three or four years ago to play one game over there per season. They have done that. By all accounts, I guess it draws pretty well. I'm not so sure what kind of an affect it has had on NFL awareness in Great Britain. I know this: the soccer league probably has 100 times more awareness than we do. I did read and (Sports Illustrated writer) Peter King told me that he had been over there this spring. Peter took a thumbnail survey and asked 10 residents of London if they know who (New England Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady was, and not one did. That didn't surprise me. I think it's quite a stretch to say that you could ever have a team based there in the near future. Now, on the other hand, globalization is a fact of life and whether you like it or don't like it, it is here to stay. Sports leagues, and particularly administrations of sports leagues – commissioners, et al – need to be cognizant of that. The NBA has done a very good job of expanding its game. Baseball has done a very good job of expanding its game. We have done it in fits and starts with mixed success, frankly. We have done well in Germany. We have done very well in Japan, and not so well virtually everywhere else. The game is not played at the youth level anywhere but Japan and Germany to any great degree. It's that play at the youth level, in my experience, that drives things. That's what drives awareness. One reason the NBA is so popular in China is not because the NBA has done a great marketing or promoting job, but because Yao Ming is the representative of the Chinese people on the international basketball stage. That's what drives it. Now, there are more Europeans playing in college football and some even have made it to the NFL. I think that's going to help with popularity over time. There are no Britons by the way. (Kicker) John Smith, I think, was the last one. So, it's sort of a mixed bag, if you will. How much this London series will expand, I don't know. There are people who I respect greatly in and out of football who say Mexico and Canada are the most likely expansion candidates. We have been to Mexico and I worked in Canada and have been to CFL as recently as last year. I would concur with that, so I think, on balance, it's a mixed bag. It's something to keep an eye on, but I don't think expansion to London is a front-burner issue any time soon.
Q: New England and Tampa played in London Sunday and now have a bye. Is that the necessary component to a game there?
A: Absolutely. I believe it's five time zones, if I'm correct. You couldn't possibly come back and play the following week. It would be too hard on you, but the way they have it now with the bye following the overseas game, it probably works OK.
Q: Can you comment on the depth the Colts seem to have this season?
A: We try very hard every year to build a 53-man team. That means that we have 53 guys who can step in and contribute at a moment's notice at a high level and win in the National Football League. That's a lofty ambition, and you don't often get 53. In the best of years, you might get to 48, 49. If you have an extraordinary year, you might get to 50. The bottom line is we try to do that because we recognize that over the course of a 16-game season, hopefully some more in the playoffs, you're going to need every one of those players. People get injured in this game – sometimes at a frightening rate. You're going to have to have back-up players who can step in and do a good job. The best example I can give you is in the Tennessee game Tony Ugoh had to step in and play left tackle because Charlie Johnson was out. Tony turned his ankle midway through the third quarter and Dan Federkeil – who was our last dressed offensive lineman – had to come in off the bench and play the rest of the way. He did a terrific job. So, don't worry about the fact that we have too many players at a position or too much depth at a position. You can never have too much depth in the National Football League.
Q: And there seem to be spots this year where you're deeper than before . . .
A: We're very deep at the receiver position, no two ways about that. We're quite deep in the defensive backfield, although we didn't think that was the case. The fact that the rookies have come on and played so well has made it a fact. We're pretty deep at running back, I think. We're good in the offensive line. We're OK in the defensive line. We're a little less deep than we'd like at linebacker. So, things change from week to week because of the injury situation. You can sit here today and say, 'This position looks pretty good,' and a week from today it won't look so good. I'm very loathe to go ahead and count my chickens because you never know what can happen, but the whole idea is to try to build as deep a team as you can because you know, without question, that those fellows are going to be needed before it's all over.
Q: You have been around both Jim Kelly and Peyton Manning. Any similarities?
A: Oh, sure. Yes. Their styles are different, even the way they throw the ball is different. But the one similarity they have is identical, not similar. They are incredible, never-say-die competitors. Neither guy ever lost a football game. He just ran out of time. They are fierce competitors. Because of that fierce, competitive will they have, they drive their other teammates to reach their level. That's what makes great leaders. In that sense, they are exactly, exactly alike. They are also very, very similar in that I have not been around, or seen for that matter, two more accurate deep passers than those two guys. We talked about the throw Peyton made Sunday to Dallas. They can put the ball in the correct hand at 60 yards over a receiver's shoulder, in his hand, on his fingernail if necessary. In that sense, physically they were a lot alike. Also, they were both very tall guys. They both had great command. They're both Hall-of-Famers, but the big thing was the incredible competitive drive they have. I'll tell you how to become smart. Here is the secret to becoming smart. It's a statistic I came across Monday. The second-longest center/quarterback tandem in National Football League history is Jeff Saturday and Peyton Manning. The longest tenured tandem is Kent Hull and Jim Kelly. So, all you need to do is surround yourself with guys like that and you look smart over night.
Q: Talk about Hull a bit. Was he a draft choice?
A: He was a free agent signee from the New York Stars of the United States Football League.
Q: And Jeff Saturday was not a draft choice . . .
A: He was a free-agent signee after being cut by Baltimore.
Q: The drive for those two guys must have been special, too.
A: Not only did they play for a long time and play at a high level, I happen to think they're both Hall-of- Famers. They probably won't make it because they're overshadowed by other, more famous teammates. But all of their teammates would tell you – and everybody who was close to the respective franchises would tell you – that they, along with the quarterbacks, were the real leaders on the team. They were the guys everybody looked to for leadership. I firmly believe – because I learned it from a Hall-of-Fame center, Jim Ringo – that you cannot have a championship football team without a great center. Because he, by definition, has to be a leader. He has to make the blocking calls. He has to settle down the offensive line. He has to be in a position to work with the quarterback. Not only physically in delivering the ball, but in terms of protections and things of that nature. Both of those guys were self-made players who played at an exceptionally high level for an awfully long period of time on great teams. And that's how you get to be smart in my position.
Q: Why didn't we see Mike Hart at running back late in the game Sunday?
A: His prospects are good. The reason you didn't see him Sunday was because he was not dressed. We can only dress 45 players plus the third quarterback, who happens to be Curtis Painter. Now, with the injury to Donald Brown, if he misses a week or two or three, Mike is very likely to be up and dressed and playing a big role. We're looking forward to having him back and ready to go.
Q: Any last thoughts on the 49ers?
A: They have a good club. Mike Singletary has done a terrific job of getting them focused, of playing fundamentally sound football. They have playmakers. Crabtree, as I mentioned, had five catches Sunday, I believe. He's fitting right in relatively seamlessly. He's a great talent. Vernon Davis is a terrific tight end who Mike Singletary has helped mature into a professional player. He's doing a heck of a job. He's a big-time player. They have two game-breakers there. They have a game-breaker and guy who just pounds you for four quarters in Frank Gore. Frank Gore is a great story. I believe he had multiple knee injuries at the University of Miami and in the National Football League. Edgerrin James told me that of all of the backs at Miami – Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, etc. – Frank Gore was the most talented of all. He has proven that in the National Football League. To come off two serious knee injuries in college and come in and play at the level he has played – which is a Pro Bowl level – is incredible. That's high praise from Edgerrin, and he has proven it on the field. Now, when you add Alex Smith to that, he gives you a down-the-field throwing dimension in addition to great escapability, and I'm certain a lot of maturity during the time he spent on the bench. He has had a chance to take a deep breath and learn the system and develop and work with Jimmy Raye. I think they have the makings of a very high-powered offense. Their defense, as you would expect with a Mike Singletary-coached team, has been terrific from the outset.
Q: And now you return home, but you can't depend on home-field advantage . . .
A: Home-field hardly means anything. You have to go out there and play and you have to shut their weapons down and you have to make plays on your part. This is no easy defense to play against. We've had two pretty tough defenses back to back. St. Louis is a darned good defense. They're just about ready to turn the corner. They're going to beat a lot of people before the season is out if they stay healthy. San Francisco already has. They're 3-3, so this is a team that is in the thick of their division race with Arizona and Seattle. I fully expect this will be a tough ballgame.