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Colts' Sanders enjoying life closer to opponents' line

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- When healthy, Bob Sanders is the Indianapolis Colts' biggest hitter.

Now, the former Pro Bowl safety wants to show the NFL he can do more than just play center field in Tony Dungy's trademark cover-2 defense.

Sanders spent much of Sunday's game near the line of scrimmage in run support or blitzing, often playing the role of a fourth linebacker to help contain Tennessee quarterback Vince Young from his improvisational runs.

As usual, Sanders made a gigantic impact.

"I want to be one of those guys that when they look at safeties, they say he can cover deep, play in the cover-2, be a big hitter and play down in the box," Sanders said. "I think we're going to change it up every week."

For Sanders, who played a similar role in college, it's a job he likes.

But in Dungy's defense, it's also a different wrinkle.

The Colts (2-0) blitzed sparingly in Dungy's first five seasons in Indy, relying primarily on their front four to pressure opposing quarterbacks into mistakes.

On Sunday, the Colts changed the formula, and Sanders delivered with a performance that could help earn another trip to Hawaii, site of the Pro Bowl, for the second time in four years. Sanders had a team-high 11 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks -- the first of his career -- and had three other quarterback hits Sunday.

The result: He now leads the team in sacks, producing more in the first two games than Indy's dangerous defensive ends, three-time Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who have been one of the league's best sacks tandems each of the past two years.

Just don't expect to see Sanders playing that role every week.

"I feel confident doing it," he said. "I have a lot of experience doing it, and I enjoy doing it. Sometimes, you've just got to switch things up, but I think that will be on a week-to-week basis."


CORNERING THE TACKLES: In the traditional cover-2, linebackers usually record the most tackles. This year, it's the Colts' new starting cornerbacks racking up the numbers.

Kelvin Hayden, who played primarily wide receiver in college, leads the team with 27 tackles and has one forced fumble. Marlin Jackson, a former first-round pick, is third with 22 and also has forced one fumble.

Only middle linebacker Gary Brackett, with 23 tackles, has more than Jackson.

Part of the explanation is that the Colts' two starting outside linebackers -- Freddy Keiaho (dislocated elbow) and Rob Morris (abdominal strain) -- missed Sunday's game with injuries.

The other part is that the Colts' new cornerbacks are bigger and relish getting physical.

"We like the way those guys tackle," Dungy said. "The defense is set up for them making tackles, and I've been pleased and I think the rest of the coaches have been pleased. It's going to be fun watching them develop."


HOLD IT: Last week, Dungy joked about the lack of holding penalties. This week, he has a new punch line: illegal contact.

In Sunday's 22-20 victory, Reggie Wayne was knocked off his timing route by a Tennessee defender about 15 yards down the field. The result was an interception deep in Colts territory.

It happens.

What's more unusual is that opponents have now run 128 offensive plays without being called for a single holding penalty. But after just one game, Dungy wanted an explanation.

"We did get an answer from the league office Saturday," Dungy said. "And they said holding is still a penalty."

This week, Dungy may try something different -- reading.

"I'm having to go back and read the rule book," Dungy said. "But I'm pretty sure illegal contact is still a penalty, too."


NOTABLE: Indianapolis will spend a third straight week playing against one of its former defensive backs. This time, it's Houston safety Von Hutchins. In Week 1, the Colts faced former starting cornerback Jason David, now with New Orleans, and played against former starting cornerback Nick Harper, now with Tennessee, on Sunday. ... Sanders, running back Joseph Addai and defensive tackle Darrell Reid received game balls for their performances Sunday. Reid earned his for special teams play. ... Indianapolis' plus-three turnover margin is tied with Pittsburgh for second best in the AFC after two weeks. Only Houston, at plus-four, has been better.

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