Bill Polian is in his first season as Colts vice chairman after spending the previous 13 seasons as Colts president. Polian has a resume unique in the NFL. The only man to win NFL Executive of the Year six times, Polian in the 1980s built the Buffalo Bills into a four-time Super Bowl participant. In the mid-1990s, he built the expansion Carolina Panthers into a team that made the NFC Championship game in its second season, 1996. Since joining Indianapolis in 1998, he built the Colts from a 3-13 team in 1997 and 1998 into one that has made the playoffs 11 of the last 12 seasons, including AFC Championship game appearances after the 2003, 2006 and 2009 seasons, an AFC East title in 1999, AFC South titles in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010, Super Bowl appearances following the 2006 and 2009 seasons and a Super Bowl championship following the 2006 season. Each week during the season, in The Polian Corner, Polian and Colts.com will discuss issues pertinent to the Colts and the rest of the NFL.
The Polian Corner will run in two installments each week. Below is this week's second installment:
Q: Why is it that Anthony Gonzalez is not playing?
A: It seems like Anthony's (Gonzalez) come up with some sort of a nagging injury pretty much every week. We get real close, we get him out there, he practices, he looks like the Anthony of old and then, 'Bingo,' something seems to go wrong. My understanding is that he is having a test of some kind tonight or tomorrow to determine if he's got a muscle injury, which is kind of a new thing. But bottom line is, he's come up with a bit of a nagger every week where we're not sure we can count on him. We have so many injuries that we dress 53 healthy guys, and that's what it boils down to. (We had) 52 (Sunday), or I should say we dressed 46, had 52 on the roster. We haven't been able to count on him. Hopefully, he will come out of this test okay and be ready to go, and we would like nothing better than to get him back on the field. We need all the play-makers we can.
Q: How do the team's injuries compare to other teams? It seems like we have more than other teams. Is there something that can be pointed to and how can we do better in this area?
A: Well it's a gigantic question. You covered a lot of bases there. Let me see if I can take them one-by-one. Our injuries compared to others in the National Football League, for the years leading up until last year and this, have been normal or below normal. We had a high-profile one every now and then, Bob Sanders and people like that from time-to-time but nothing out of the ordinary. Two years ago it was beyond belief. Every time we turned around someone else was getting hurt. We did a study of it in the off-season, in fact we did a seven-year injury study. (We) went back seven years. The reason we did that was because (it was the) same coaching staff, same offensive and defensive systems, essentially the same core players and (making the) playoffs every year, including two Super Bowls. So the study showed that our practice regimen was fine. We had no problems there. It showed that most of our injuries were trauma injuries, meaning that they were injuries that occurred in contact in a ballgame, or because you twisted your ankle or knee or something of that nature. We did not have an inordinate amount of one type of injury. It was spread across the board. What we learned from it was we changed our practice regimen in camp a little bit because the only time we had fatigue injuries was in training camp. Other than that, they have all been trauma. We tracked all of the injuries this year and are using the same criteria and indices this season, and they are all trauma. Is there any injury that is up? It's obviously concussions. That's obviously because there is a new diagnostic procedure, including a baseline from which a player is judged by way of when he may return. That's different than it's been in (the) years when we conducted the study. Other than that, there hasn't been any difference at all. I hate to have to say this because it flies in the face of what we believe is fact-based analysis and fact-based decision-making but when it's all said and done, after exhaustive study and lots of statistical measurement, it is just bad luck. As to the question of pain, I will be very emphatic about this. First of all, collegiate athletics is very different than pro ball by a factor of probably 100 in terms of concussive effect of hits, in terms of the speed of the game, in terms of the intensity of the game, in terms of the amount of games and amount of practices. That's exceedingly different. The decision as to whether or not a player can play is always made by the doctor. No one else is involved in that decision, except the player himself. The vast majority, the overwhelming majority, of players want to play. You have to hold them back. That decision is made by the doctors. We have always been guided by the maxim that was given to me by (former Buffalo Bills coach) Marv Levy over 30 years ago which is that, 'Eighty percent of one player is not as good as 100 percent of another.' He wanted 100 percent from everybody all the time. There's no such thing as playing at 80 percent, or 75 percent. That doesn't lead to a good result. The doctors use pain as an indicator of something wrong. There are some times when a player has pain where it can be numbed by a medicine and it's okay for them to play. Those situations are relatively few. In most cases, the docs are always going to err on the side of what's good for the player. That is our culture here. I don't know what it is anywhere else. It's been the culture of every team that I've been with. I know there are assertions to the contrary that are frequently set forth in the press, but that's not our way of doing things. In short, if a player isn't 100 percent and can't go out there and give 100 percent and play with confidence and play with exuberance and let it go, we're not going to play him. I know that doesn't sit well with some people, but that's just the way we operate. That's the way we've always operated, and that's the way we are going to continue to operate. I have no qualms about any player that's injured or has been injured here not giving their best. In fact, I can tell you of only one instance in the 14 years that I've been here where I thought that a player did not try to play when we had the wherewithal to do so. I can give you probably 150 instances where they all wanted to play, probably 75 to 85 where the docs said, 'No, it's best to sit another week, not ready to go,' and we are fine with that.
Q: The league is now asking game officials to get involved in the judgment process if they believe they see players with concussion-like symptoms. Have you seen anything from that directive yet?
A: I have not. I have not and our doctors and trainers do a great job of monitoring of that. They really don't need any help. We are fine with that.
Q: What is the future of the quarterback situation with the team in terms of the draft?
A: Well first of all, we're not ready to make any decision on who we take until April. All of the results from all of the testing and examining that we do will not be in until around the first of April. It's very, very premature to even mention player's names. Now, there are a number of players whose names who are being bandied about. Andrew Luck is one of them. (He) can go back to school if he wishes. Those fellows have until January 15 to declare (for the draft), so they're not even part of the equation at this point. That said, I have said publicly on a number of occasions that if a quarterback, who is the right person was there, we would not hesitate to make that pick. We were prepared to do that last year and came awfully close to doing it. This year I think there is no question that if the right person were there, we would make the pick. Now who is the right person? I can't tell you now. I'll able to tell you in late April. Where might that person, or persons be drafted? I don't know. I'll leave that projecting to the people who project for a living and don't have to answer for their projections. The bottom line is if the right person is there, at the right time, we wouldn't hesitate to take a quarterback. Beyond that, see me on draft day. We haven't even heard from most of the counties, much less all the precincts at this point.
Bob Lamey: People have forgotten how you came up with Edgerrin James when most everyone thought Ricky Williams would be the choice in 1999 when three quarterbacks went in the first three picks and Williams was available.
A: That wasn't a popular pick, to say the least, at the time. Dom Anile, our tremendous personnel director, remarked weeks later that he didn't realize how unpopular it was until he left the draft room and checked his messages. He was getting all kinds of threatening phone calls from people. He gave his car keys to one of the interns and said, 'Here, start my car.'
Q: Why are answers so cryptic when people ask about Peyton Manning's future? Is it possible to have two quarterbacks on the roster if the team drafts one next year?
A: Of course you can. First of all, let me answer why we can't give you a definitive answer. I realize it's frustrating. It's equally frustrating for us. It's frustrating for Peyton, but the doctors can't do it, and that's the way life is. Sometimes you can't get the answers you want, and you can't get them in the time that you want, and that's just the way it is. It's frustrating, but it is life. There isn't anything that any of us can do to change that. With respect to Peyton and a rookie quarterback, of course you can do that. First of all, the payment to first-round draft choices, if you assume that he's taken in the first round, is far less than it was under the old agreement. You could afford that. I'm perfectly fine with that approach and don't think it would be a problem at all if the right person were there. Just look to the Green Bay Packers.
Bob Lamey (kidding): Do we have to go to New England?
A: We go every year. Why not this year? (It's a) tough ballgame, tough place to play, tough place to go in under-manned, which we are. (It's) going to require all the ingenuity and all the grit and determination we can muster but as Joe Louis used to say, 'We'll show up and we'll be on time.'
Bob Lamey: It does look like the weather will be fine, but that always could change, right, and you always go to play, correct?
A: We can count on it being bad. If it's anything but that, it will be an upset. Any given Sunday. That's why you have to go out there and give your best every weekend.