By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — Team president Bill Polian has not set a timetable for when strong safety Bob Sanders is expected to return to the practice field. But when he does come back, don’t expect to see any change in the way that the National Football League’s 2007 “Defensive Player of the Year” conducts his business on the field or in practice.
After missing five games with a high right ankle sprain, suffered in the team’s 18-15 win at Minnesota in the second week of the regular season, Sanders has been experiencing swelling in his right knee. He sat out the last two weeks, not playing in wins over Houston and San Diego, and remains doubtful for Sunday’s game at Cleveland.
“As to getting him back, we will do our level best to get him back there, but it is a function solely of Mother Nature. We can adapt his practice schedule. We can adapt his workout schedule. In the end, when his knee quiets down, he’ll be back out there. We’re never going to put a player out there if he is not able to defend himself, if he is not able to play well enough to avoid further injury,” Polian said recently on his weekly radio show.
“If Bob does not have the swelling gone out of his knee, we’re not going to put him out there. It’s that simple. Whoever else plays is going to have to play and play well. Melvin Bullitt has done that for the last little while and I fully expect he’ll continue to do that, because he’s a good player. But the idea that Bob can someone slow himself down to the point where he can just tap people and knock them down or whatever to avoid injury is not realistic.”
As for suggestions that Sanders should ”go easy” in practices or games in order to prevent additional injuries — he has only played in four of the team’s 11 games this season and has missed 33 out of a possible 75 games during his five-year NFL career — Polian disagrees.
“First of all, Bob only knows one way to play and that’s the way he plays. It’s impossible for Bob Sanders to run as fast as he can and not hit someone hard. It’s physically impossible to do that because he is a very large man who runs inordinately fast and when he hits you, he’s going to hit you hard. There’s no way for him to pull off. No football player can do that. In fact, if you did that, you would be inviting further injury to yourself,” he pointed out.
“It is an axiom in football from Day One that if you play very hard and you give your all on every play, if the competitive issues are relatively equal — meaning that it’s not a 350-pound man going against a 175-pound man — the harder you play the less likely you are to be injured. The way for Bob to avoid injury is to play as hard as he possibly can, which he does all of the time.”
Colts coach Tony Dungy said Thursday that there remains a slight possibility that Sanders, who has yet to practice this week, might be back for the Cleveland game.
“He did not practice. I don’t think he’ll practice [today],” he said. “I said [Wednesday] he was doubtful. I doubted he would play. And [Thursday] I’m saying there’s a better chance than I thought.”
n Close is okay — En route to a 7-4 record this year, the Colts have been involved in seven games that have been decided by a touchdown or less. Indianapolis has won six of those contests.
“A win is a win is a win. As [Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach] Herman Edwards said, ‘You play to win the game. That’s what you do.’ There has been a myth created by these report cards and all of these power rankings and all the other chatter that somehow if you don’t win every game in the National Football League 37-0 and hold the other team under 200 yards that you’re a flawed team and there’s something wrong. That isn’t the way the National Football League is,” Polian said.
“The National Football League is what we see every week — hard-fought games that turn on one, two or three plays where the matchups are very, very even and you’re in a situation where you have to fight and scrap for every single game. We make no bones about the fact that that’s the way it’s going to be the rest of the way. We said it at the outset when we had all of the injuries that that was likely the way it was going to be all season long. Coulda, woulda, shoulda doesn’t count either way. Either you won or you lost, and then from our perspective, ‘How did we play?’ We play to a certain standard. Every week we want to adhere to that standard. We want to reach that standard and if we do it, then we’re fine. All of the other things — the so-called style points — are totally meaningless in the NFL.”
n Injury list — Wide receiver Roy Hall (knee/hamstring) is back and has practiced the last two days. Dungy, however, doesn’t think he’ll play much, if at all, on Sunday.
“I doubt it. He’s actually done pretty well [in workouts] and moved around well. But we’ll probably get another week of practice in,” he said after Thursday’s workout.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne was rested on Thursday, but is expected back for today’s practice. A few of the players who sat out Wednesday — defensive ends Dwight Freeney (rest) and Robert Mathis (rest), strong safety Melvin Bullitt (rib), cornerback Tim Jennings (rest), outside linebacker Tyjuan Hagler (knee), offensive tackle Tony Ugoh (quadraceps) — took part in Thursday’s workout.
Safety Antoine Bethea (ankle) and middle linebacker Gary Brackett (hamstring) missed a second straight day of work. Both are scheduled to play against the Browns, however. Center Jeff Saturday (calf) also sat out Thursday and will be out for several weeks.
“We are [in good shape], for the most part. Had a good day of work. Thought they did a good job for Thanksgiving Day. It was good tempo, crisp and pretty good shape,” Dungy said. “We rested Reggie Wayne. But some of the other guys that didn’t work [Wednesday], those guys got back into it. So it was a good day.”
n Party at Peyton’s house — For those Indianapolis players who didn’t have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving Day, the door to Peyton Manning’s house was wide open Thursday.
Manning and his wife Ashleigh invited the team over for a mega dinner Thursday afternoon and evening.
“When Peyton made the announcement [on Wednesday] that anybody who didn’t have family here or any of our new guys, they could come over to his house. I tried to tell the guys he wasn’t just saying that. He’s serious about it,” Dungy said.
“Even though my family will be here, we may go over to Peyton’s house. He’s had a lot of the rookies over and it’s a pretty good time and pretty good food. We’re going to try and take care of everybody, especially the guys that don’t have family here.”
The Indianapolis quarterback acknowledged earlier this week that his house will be well stocked.
“It’s a lot of food, obviously, for football players. We got four turkeys, I think. Some of these linemen can eat, without a doubt. Coach Dungy has always talked about this, that it’s a time to work and focus on Cleveland. But it’s also time, when the time is right, to be thankful for the things that we have. [Thanksgiving] is always a special day,” Manning said.
“We have a lot of new players, first-year players, guys that have just signed in the past couple of weeks. Nobody should be eating alone on Thanksgiving, so we go open house at the Mannings and make sure everybody has a place to go.”