Colts say they're not following preseason hype
By Hank Lowenkron, Associated Press, 09/01/00
INDIANAPOLIS -- If the Indianapolis Colts get to the Super Bowl, an unimaginable thought at this time last year, they might be one of the youngest teams to vie for the championship.
Twelve of their 53 players have never stepped on the field for an NFL game. Two players -- wide receiver Chad Plummer and defensive end Chukie Nwokorie -- have played one game each.
The roster includes nine rookies, five of them undrafted. That's the highest number of Colts rookies to survive the final cut since 10 were on the opening-day roster in 1994.
"I don't pay any attention to that," coach Jim Mora said. "I don't look at this guy's got five years or this guy's got three or he's a rookie or whatever.
"We're looking for the best football players. I don't figure out ages and I couldn't tell you what our average age is."
The average age of Colts players is 25 years, seven months. Their average experience is 3.5 years.
Meanwhile, some key players insist they haven't heard of the high expectations for a team known mainly for futility in the past decade.
"I didn't even know we were favored until you mentioned it," said wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who set franchise records with 115 receptions for 1,663 yards last season while earning a starting berth in the Pro Bowl. "For me, it's even better to go out and not know we're favored. I honestly haven't heard we're favored. If we are, fine, but it really doesn't matter."
Safety Jason Belser is back for a ninth season, continuing the longest tenure on the team. He also denied knowing the Colts are favored to repeat as AFC East champions.
"Is that what they're saying? I have no earthly idea," said Belser, an eighth-round draft pick in 1992 who opens the season holding the team's longest streak of consecutive starts with 86. "I don't watch the news. I don't read the paper, so I have no idea of what people are saying."
The Colts went from 3-13 to 13-3 in 1999, producing the biggest single-season turnaround in league history.
Club president Bill Polian, selected the NFL's executive of the year for a fifth time, has given Mora a solid nucleus. Twenty-three of last season's 24 starters are back, although there has been some shuffling on the offensive line. Second-year player Jeff Saturday takes over at center, Larry Moore moves to right guard and Waverly Jackson has become a backup.
Tarik Glenn and Adam Meadows return at tackle from a line that allowed a league-low 14 sacks last season. NFL offensive rookie of the year Edgerrin James rushed for a league-high 1,553 yards.
Polian has virtually overhauled the team since taking over following the 1997 season. Only nine members on the 53-man roster were here when he arrived.
There are more than two dozen free agents who signed since Polian arrived. Thirteen draft picks, two players claimed on waivers and one in a trade also were added during the Polian administration.
"I've always felt you build a franchise through the draft, but in these days of free agency and salary caps you have to be versatile and lucky," Polian said.
Some astute drafting has paid dividends. Leading the offense is quarterback Peyton Manning and James, both selected as Pro Bowl starters along with Harrison last season. Polian took Manning as the top pick in 1998 ahead of Ryan Leaf, and last year he took James ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams as the fourth overall selection.
The Colts had the league's fourth most productive offense, averaging nearly 358 yards per game. But the defense ranked only 15th, so it received the most attention from Polian.
But the holdout of first-round draft pick Rob Morris and a hamstring injury to second-rounder Marcus Washington slowed its progress.
Linebacker has been a major concern. Michael Barber, a starter last season, was released. And the availability of veteran Cornelius Bennett, last year's leading tackler, was also uncertain going into training camp. But Bennett is ready to open his 14th season after recovering from knee ligament damage suffered in the final game of the season.
The position gained some depth with the addition of Dwight Hollier, a veteran of eight years with Miami, who was signed as a free agent. Hollier will start at middle linebacker until Morris is ready.
"He's been pretty solid in getting the calls and the signals down right and helping everyone getting lined up. He's still got some good football in him," said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
A lingering knee injury to Mark Thomas produced another change in the starting unit. Bernard Holsey has replaced Thomas at defensive end on the left side.
"It's not perfect where we're at, but I think we're pretty close to where we need to be," Fangio said of his defense.