By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts fans shouldn’t be too surprised if they see rookie punter Pat McAfee playing quarterback at some point in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s road game with the Buffalo Bills.
That’s not to say McAfee will be lining up behind center in the Colts’ 2009 regular-season finale. But with starter Peyton Manning not expected to play more than one or two offensive series, rookie backup Curtis Painter will get the majority of the work against the Bills.
Should Painter get hurt, though, McAfee — who has never played quarterback at any level — has been tabbed as the team’s “emergency” signal caller. He has been working with quarterback coach Frank Reich over the last several weeks in order to be ready if needed.
Rookie quarterback Drew Willy was released and then signed to the Colts’ practice squad earlier this week. He isn’t expected to be activated for Sunday’s game.
While Manning would be available to come back into the game if needed, that probably wouldn’t happen.
“At this point, that’s what we have, just two quarterbacks [on the active roster],” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said Friday. “It depends on the situation [if Manning were to re-enter the game]. It could be McAfee. It just depends on the situation. Time of the game. All those things are factors.”
Caldwell said the game plan for playing time on Sunday will be different depending on the particular player or players. Health will be a main factor in who plays and for how long.
“That depends on the health [of players]. There are some guys that just could maybe go out and practice a couple of days [this past week] and then [today] get out and run around a little bit. We’d test them [this morning] and then make a determination. This game it’s less likely that will happen,” the Colts coach said.
“If their health is [an issue], we’ll probably error on being a little bit more conservative if the doctors indicate such. Everybody’s a little different. We’re going to have some guys that are starters that will actually play a much lesser role than they did previously.”
Some starters could go the whole way against the Bills but have their work limited by play count.
“Everybody’s a little bit different because of our health. We’re pretty thin at some spots. Not everybody will take a complete leave. The health situation [of another player] may require that we still play a guy, but we may have to rotate them,” Caldwell said.
• Colts practice outdoors — In order to help acclimate the team for Sunday’s expected frigid temperatures in Buffalo, Indianapolis conducted practice Thursday and Friday outdoors rather than in the indoor workout facility.
“It’s been good for us. Often times you’ll have an opportunity to get a taste of what it’s going to be like, particularly in a climate like that one,” the Colts coach said. “Fortunately, we’ve had some pretty cold weather here the last couple of days. [Saturday] in particular. It was a great day to get out there and get some work done. I think the guys handled it well.”
Some handled it better than others. Rookie defensive tackle Fili Moala, who played collegiately at Southern California, wore shorts during Friday’s workout. He was the exception rather than the rule. Most were clad in several layers of practice gear.
• Injury report — Listed as out for the Buffalo game are offensive tackle Ryan Diem (elbow), rookie cornerback Jerraud Powers (hamstring), tight end Gijon Robinson (knee) and weak side linebacker Clint Session (knee).
Questionable are safety Melvin Bullitt (shoulder), defensive end Keyunta Dawson (knee), safety Aaron Francisco (hand), defensive end Dwight Freeney (abdomen), wide receiver Pierre Garcon (hand), defensive tackle Antonio Johnson (shoulder), offensive tackle Charlie Johnson (foot), defensive end Robert Mathis (quad), tight end Tom Santi (knee), running back/kickoff returner Chad Simpson (concussion) and placekicker Adam Vinatieri (right knee).
Bullitt and Garcon both saw limited work in practice this week. Freeney, Antonio Johnson, Charlie Johnson, Mathis, and Simpson did not practice at all. Dawson practiced Friday after missing Wednesday and Thursday. Santi did not practice on Friday.