First of a Position-by-Position Series on the Colts' Roster
INDIANAPOLIS – Sometime soon, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said he figures he'll have the conversation he has every off-season.
It will be with quarterback Peyton Manning.
And somewhere in the conversation, Manning – an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player and a former Super Bowl MVP – will not-so-casually mention a specific area he wants to improve next season.
Manning, Dungy said, will focus on the area. And somehow, Dungy said, a player who is widely considered one of the best in the league at his position likely will do something that has helped Indianapolis become a consistent contender over the last decade.
"He'll still do that," Dungy said recently in an interview with Colts.com for this story on the team's quarterbacks, the first of a position-by-position series that will run throughout this month.
"He really does. He'll have a focal point for this year, and what he wants to do. He'll go over it with (Associate Head Coach) Jim Caldwell – how he wants to get to that point. That's what makes him good, because he's never going to stop that process of trying to get better."
Manning, who never has missed a game in 10 NFL seasons, continued that process this past season, Dungy said – and he did so despite circumstances he never previously faced.
The Colts, after winning the Super Bowl following the 2006 season, sustained injuries and personnel losses offensively this past season. First, long-time third receiver Brandon Stokley was released the previous off-season for salary cap reasons, and was replaced by rookie first-round selection Anthony Gonzalez.
Then, three-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Tarik Glenn announced his retirement shortly before training camp.
In the fourth game of the season, eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison sustained a knee injury that kept him out 11 of the final 12 regular-season games. Midway through the season, rookie left tackle Tony Ugoh – who replaced Glenn in the lineup – missed five games with an injury and late in the season, right tackle Ryan Diem missed six games.
The Colts' offense, which has been ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL each season since 1999 – and in the Top Three in six of eight seasons from 1999-2006 – finished fifth in the league offensively in 2007. They also scored 450 points, third in the NFL.
"I thought we were very efficient offensively," Dungy said. "We didn't have our regular group all the time, but he (Manning) still got that productivity from the offense without the old reliable guys he always had. It was him picking up his game, but also doing the things that were going to make these guys comfortable and make his guys play better.
"He played very, very well."
With two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark focal points of the passing offense, Manning completed 337 of 515 passes for 4,040 yards and 31 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.
He completed 104 passes to Wayne for 1,510 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he completed 58 to Clark for 616 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Manning, the No. 1 overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft, is the only quarterback in NFL history to open his career with 10 consecutive 3,000-plus-yard seasons, and his 10 consecutive seasons with 25 or more touchdown passes is the longest such streak in NFL history. He has more 4,000-yard seasons – eight – than any quarterback in NFL history.
He has 105 regular-season victories, the eighth-highest total in NFL history, and in his 10 seasons, Indianapolis has made eight playoff appearances, winning six division titles, making two AFC Championship Games and winning Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season.
"He's very special," Dungy said. "There are probably three or four guys like that in every era that do so much and do it for a long time. You kind of take it for granted. (Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett) Favre's been that way. (New England Patriots quarterback Tom) Brady's been that way. Peyton has been that way.
"Sometimes, we do get numb to it. It's 4,000 yards, 34 touchdowns, nine interceptions . . . you think that's just kind of normal numbers, and they really aren't."
Dungy said Manning's performance this past season went well beyond numbers, as did his impact on the team's offense. His ability to read defenses, and to get the Colts out of bad situations offensively and into good ones, is critical to the team's success.
"I think it's his feel for the game, his memory of things, his ability to take in information, to store it, to process it, then to act on it at the right time," Dungy said. "We give him a lot and he gets a lot on his own. He analyzes things and makes the right decision as often as anybody I've been around.
"Just his ability to process everything – not only his ability to read defenses, but to assess the situation in the game and the down and distance, and what you need and what they've done in the past . . . he makes the right decision so often. You do take it for granted."
Also this past season, the Colts re-signed backup quarterback Jim Sorgi, a move Dungy said was critical "to keep the continuity and to know where we are."
Sorgi, a sixth-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft, has completed 77 of 126 passes for 751 yards and six touchdowns with one interception while playing 14 games. He completed 18 of 36 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions this past season.
"Jim hasn't played as much as he would like, but the times he has played he has done a good job for us," Dungy said. "It gives us confidence we can continue to run our offense and you're not looking for that second quarterback."