UNCHARTED TERRITORY

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning did not play in the preseason and didn't practice until last week. The eight-time Pro Bowl selection said that makes certain aspects of Sunday's 2008 regular-season opener against the Chicago Bears on Sunday uncharted territory.

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Situation Entering 2008 "Somewhat in the Unknown," Manning Says
INDIANAPOLIS – In one sense, Peyton Manning said not much is new.

The Colts on Wednesday began preparing for the regular-season opener and for the 11-year veteran, eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback that meant basically the same meetings, walkthroughs, practice and film study he has gone through for 160 previous regular-season games.

In other sense, though, Manning said there's a different feeling.

He didn't participate in training camp.

He didn't practice until last week.

He didn't play in the preseason for the first time in his career. So, no, Manning said, things aren't quite the same as always.

And exactly what that will mean he said he doesn't yet know.

"It will certainly be different," Manning said Wednesday as the Colts (13-3 last season), the five-time defending AFC South champions, prepared to play the Chicago Bears (7-9) in the first regular-season game at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at 8 p.m.

"I've used the term, 'uncharted territory.' That's kind of what it has been all preseason for me. I hope to have a good week of practice this week and get back into the flow of things.

"I hope I can go out there Sunday and play at a high level."

Manning, who never has missed a regular-season start in 10 previous NFL seasons, underwent surgery to remove an infected bursa sac in his knee 10 days before the start of Colts Training Camp on July 24.

That kept him out of training camp for the first time in his career, and also forced him to miss all five preseason games. He returned to practice last week, then despite not playing in the preseason finale last Thursday, he dressed and went through his pregame warm-up routine for the first time in 2008.

"He has practiced," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said this week. "I'm sure he would have rather gone through training camp and gotten his normal repetitions and normal amount of work, but we've done it with other people. (Safety) Bob Sanders did it one year. When you have veteran guys, that part is not the issue."

Dungy said the beginning of the regular-season routine likely was a welcome day for Manning.

"I think very much so," Dungy said. "I think we all like to be in that and to be in your comfort zone of doing exactly what you're used to doing. It's good for all of us that we're in our routine. We've gone through our walkthrough. We have our meetings. We have tape study we normally do. We have our 12:45 press excursion.

"It's all good. It's all familiar."

Said Manning, "That's kind of what we're into. We certainly are in heavy-preparation mode, heavy film study. That's kind of what I've always known from a preparation standpoint. Hopefully, I'll be able to continue that and that's kind of the only way I know how to prepare. Hopefully, that will pay dividends for us."

Throughout training camp, and again last week, Colts players such as tight end Dallas Clark and wide receiver Reggie Wayne said that largely because of Manning's experience and dedication to preparation, they don't expect timing with receivers to be an issue Sunday.

Clark, who has played five seasons with Manning, reiterated that Wednesday.

"Not too concerned," Clark said. "He's a great professional and he's definitely going to be going out there doing everything he can to get ready. Everyone has confidence in that. He'll definitely be able to go out there and do his job."

Manning said because of the missed time in camp and preseason, the practice time last week – and particularly this week – has been critical.

"You're somewhat in the unknown a little bit," said Manning, a Pro Bowl selection each of the past six seasons. "I kind of go by what I'm allowed to do and this is the time I'm allowed and try to make the most of it. One thing I won't do is talk about what time I've missed or what's happened in the past.

"It's really irrelevant, but this is an imant week of practice from a preparation standpoint and for me to get out there and have a full week and run the offense and get back into the flow of things."

Manning said what he anticipates most Sunday is a return to "normalcy" after a decidedly less-than-normal month and a half.

"For different players, it can mean something different," Manning said. "For me, it's really my first game in quite some time, so I'm sort of looking forward to that. I don't know if I'm really 'curious.' This is the way it is. This is what it's going to be. The sooner we can get it to normalcy as far 'let's go play the game, let's go try to pick up some first downs, let's score some touchdowns in the red zone,' the better off we're going to be.

"Hopefully, that will be the case from the get-go."

Manning often has said in past seasons he looks forward to the first preseason game, primarily so he can get his first hard hit from an opposing pass-rusher.

Before the team's preseason finale, he joked that perhaps three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney might welcome the opportunity to deliver the hit in practice.

Told of that possibility, Dungy laughed.

"We'll bump him up in practice," Dungy said. "It's not like we want him to get hit a lot in the game anyway. Hopefully, he doesn't have to get used to getting hit a lot."

Dungy said considering Manning's experience, the adjustment period shouldn't be long.

"You might worry about it if it's a second- or third-year player," Dungy said, "but with your veteran guys, you're not going to worry about it."

Also on Wednesday, the Colts released their first injury report of the season, with center Jeff Saturday (knee) and guard Mike Pollak (knee) listed as not participating in practice and wide receiver Pierre Garcon (shoulder) practicing on a limited basis.

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