Saturday Status Uncertain Entering Final Preseason Game
INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts' lost their top punt/kick returner Tuesday.
The status of their three-time Pro Bowl center remained less certain, according to Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy.
Jeff Saturday, the Colts' starting center and a Pro Bowl selection the past three seasons, will miss at least the team's final preseason game, and third-year cornerback T.J. Rushing – Indianapolis' top kick/punt returner last season – has been placed on injured reserve, Dungy said Tuesday.
Saturday sustained a knee injury against Buffalo this past Sunday, and Dungy said he was getting evaluated Tuesday.
"We don't know at this point where it is," Dungy said Tuesday as the Colts (1-3 in the preseason) prepared to play the Cincinnati Bengals (1-2) in the 2008 preseason finale at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis. "It could be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a major injury.
"We're still trying to sort that out right now."
Rushing, a seventh-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, was placed on injured reserve Tuesday along with rookie tight end Zac Herold (knee), Dungy said.
"It was really one of those freak things," Dungy said of Rushing, who returned 19 punts for a 13.1-yard average and a touchdown and 31 kickoffs for a 23.0-yard average last season. "He was running down as a gunner ran past the return man and came up hobbling.
"That was tough one – really a tough break for him."
The Colts also released second-year running back Clifton Dawson, linebacker Marcus Richardson and kicker Adam Crossett to trim the roster to the league-mandated 75 players.
The Colts will trim the roster to 53 players after the preseason finale.
Dungy said Saturday's status may not be known for several days, adding that the uncertainty doesn't necessarily mean a long-term issue.
"I came here and told you a couple of years ago, 'We're putting (tight end) Dallas Clark on IR, and he ended up being probably the most valuable player in the playoff run (to the Super Bowl following the 2006 season),''' Dungy said. "I think we're still at that point, where Jeff has some options. We don't really know how bad it is. We're going to look at it and it probably will be through this weekend where it gets sorted out.
"It could be the type of thing where he'll be back next week or it could be something major where he needs surgery, but we don't know right now."
Saturday, the Colts' starting center since 2000, has missed just two starts in eight seasons, each coming in 2004. He has typically made the audibles for a unit that has allowed fewer sacks (178) than any offensive line in the NFL in the last nine seasons.
"Certainly, my prayers are with Jeff and you have your fingers crossed," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. "It's pretty well-documented how I feel about him and how the team feels about him and how imant he is to the team and this offense. We're certainly hoping for good news.
"Jeff is one of the old-school players. He's one of the tough guys on this team and in this league. I know he's going to want to do whatever he can to be able to be out there playing. Obviously, we have to see what the results are and what the doctors say, but I guess we'll get some news on that this week.
"I did not like to see that the other day in the game and hopefully, we can get some good news out of him."
Colts starting guard Ryan Lilja – a fifth-year veteran who is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list – in recent seasons had practiced at center, and while rookie draft-selections Mike Pollak, Steve Justice and Jamey Richard are listed as guards with the Colts, all three played center collegiately.
Lilja has not practiced in training camp and Dungy said Tuesday the hope is that he can return next week. Pollak, the Colts' second-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, rotated at right guard with veteran Charlie Johnson throughout training camp and Dungy said he will miss a second consecutive game Thursday with a knee injury.
"We're hopeful of having him back next week," Dungy said.
Justice played extensively at center Sunday after Saturday left the game.
"We'll have to see how it pans out," Justice said. "The coaches have really prepared us mentally. It's coming in, getting ready the best we can and going out and playing as hard as we can.
"Every single day, you just have to be ready. You never know what's going to happen to anybody, so you always have to be prepared."
Said Dungy, "If Jeff isn't playing, everybody's going to pick up their game a little bit, but it still falls on the center. Those guys have practiced and they're going to do a good job. Jeff missed some time in 2004 and we had some tough games. (Then-reserve) Trevor Hutton played against Detroit and played great.
"It's one of those things that that's kind of how we practice and how we do things. If Jeff is not able to go, we'll have some guys – Steve Justice, Mike Pollak, Jamey Richard or Ryan Lilja – whoever we decide to put in there, they'll do a good job and they'll know what's going on."