By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — In a sense, Tony Dungy will be going home this weekend.
Dungy, the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach since 2002, began his NFL playing career with Sunday’s opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in 1977. He played cornerback for the Steelers from 1977-78 before being traded to the San Francisco 49ers.
After ending his on-field career, Dungy joined Chuck Noll’s Pittsburgh coaching staff in 1981. He served as the team’s defensive backfield coach from 1981-88, adding the Steelers’ defensive coordinator title in 1984.
But the roots run deeper than that.
His wife, Lauren, is a Pittsburgh native and a longtime Steelers fan. Pittsburgh’s current head coach, Mike Tomlin, spent one season (2001) as Dungy’s secondary coach at Tampa Bay.
“I am looking forward [to returning to Pittsburgh for Sunday’s game]. They have a very tough football team and they are playing well.
“That part won’t be so pleasant. But it will be great to see the [Heinz Field] stadium, see everyone and get back there,” the Colts’ coach said this week.
Dungy enjoyed his time playing for the Steelers and came to appreciate the team’s loyal and loud fans. But he knows that his playing time in Pittsburgh won’t mean a thing this week.
“It’s going to be a tough game. They give you a lot of stuff out of the 3-4 [defensive scheme]. They bring a lot of different people, linebackers, safeties, cornerbacks [during their pass rush] and you have to be aware of a lot of things,” he said.
“It’s a very physical offense running the ball at you. It’ll be a different style of offense. But, again, we’re getting into a stretch where we’re playing all these AFC teams that are right in the [playoff] hunt. It’s almost like we have to win every week. And we’ll need the same type of performance.”
The Colts have faced the 3-4 defense in two earlier games this season in wins over Baltimore and New England. But Dungy said preparing for the Steelers’ version of the 3-4 takes plenty of preparation.
“It’s a little different than New England’s. It’s the same type of thing. They try to create confusion. They bring a lot of different people, but this one has just a lot of heat from their outside [linebackers] and guys that you have to block,” he said.
“They’re very active and they’re very fast. So it’s a pretty good combination they have going, fast and physical. They don’t give up a lot of big plays. Baltimore gave you a lot of things where you said, ‘Hey, if we can figure this out, we have a chance to get some big plays.’ But these guys haven’t given up many.”
There is a perception around the league that the Colts struggle against teams that employ the 3-4 defense. Dungy, though, begs to differ.
“That’s how it is, yes. We’ve played Baltimore and New England this year and we’ve beaten them. So you haven’t heard much talk about how the 3-4 is the way to play us and how the matchups are bad. We’ll play San Diego and Pittsburgh, and if we beat them, you won’t hear anything else about it,” he said.
“But if they beat us, then the 3-4 will be the thing that gives us problems. It’s not really that. It’s the people that you have to block for the most part. The talent [that Pittsburgh has on defense] could probably play in any defense. Those guys are good players. We’d love to have a bunch of them here. They would fit right in perfectly.”
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n Roster moves — The Colts have added to their defensive-line depth by signing former Mississippi State defensive tackle Antonio Johnson off the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad.
The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Johnson was a fifth-round pick by the Titans in 2005 but has yet to play in a regular-season NFL game. He missed the 2007 season after suffering an ACL injury during training camp that year.
“[Johnson was a player] who we liked coming out of school and had some pretty good grades on. We’re at a point where we’re looking for defensive interior linemen and he was a guy that we liked that was available,” Dungy said.
“We had a chance to sign him and we’ll see how he does. He should be able to acclimate [to the Colts’ defense] pretty quickly. Matter of fact, he was on Tennessee’s practice squad so he got to play this defense for a whole week before he got here.”
Indianapolis placed running back Clifton Dawson on injured reserve to make room on the active roster. Dawson had suffered a concussion in the Colts’ loss at Tennessee on Oct. 27. He did not practice prior to the New England game last week and was a game-day inactive.
Also, the team has signed former North Carolina State cornerback A.J. Davis to the practice squad. The 5-10, 192-pound Davis was a fourth-round draft pick by Detroit in 2007. He also has spent time with Cleveland and Kansas City.
Cornerback Brandon Sumrall, meanwhile, was been placed on Indianapolis’ injured practice squad list. Sumrall suffered a foot injury last month.
n Injury list — Sitting out Wednesday’s practice were defensive ends Dwight Freeney (rest) and Robert Mathis (rest), wide receivers Roy Hall (hamstring/knee) and Reggie Wayne (rest), cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden (knee) and Tim Jennings (rest) and tight end Tom Santi (shoulder).
Freeney, Mathis, Wayne and Jennings are all expected back in practice today and start Sunday against the Steelers. Hayden has already been ruled out of the Pittsburgh game. Santi’s availability won’t be known until Friday or Saturday.
Weak-side linebacker Freddy Keiaho (knee) and cornerback Dante Hughes (ankle) returned for Wednesday’s workout after missing the New England game. Both should be given the green light to play this weekend.
Offensive guard Ryan Lilja (knee), who is on the Colts’ physically unable to perform list, saw some limited work Wednesday. Indianapolis now has three weeks to determine whether or not to add him to the active roster. Lilja had knee surgery during the offseason.