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Rested Colts look to take advantage of extended break

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- The schedule-makers didn't make things easy for the Indianapolis Colts.

After a monthlong span that included six games, four road trips, two short weeks and a rash of injuries, the Colts finally got what they needed most -- an unusually long midseason break that seems to have re-energized some weary players.

"I think we all needed it," offensive tackle Charlie Johnson said. "Playing six games in 30 days or whatever wears on guys. Mentally, we could kind of get away for a chance to relax, be with loved ones and heal. It's good because after the break, it's going to be a grind going into the playoffs."

The grind is already starting.

The Colts (9-2) held their first full-fledged practice in eight days and were even back in pads Wednesday, a rarity in recent weeks.

Coach Tony Dungy has attributed some of the Colts' struggles to the scaled-back practices that have rarely included pads -- something he did out of necessity, given the ever-expanding injury list.

So after last Thursday's 31-13 victory at Atlanta, Dungy rewarded players and coaches with a three-day weekend and encouraged everyone to spend a few days thinking about something other than football. On Monday, the Colts came back for a light workout, then took Tuesday as their normal off-day.

The hope among the Colts is that this late-season respite, in essence a second bye week, will help the team get healthy, refreshed and back to a more-normal schedule in hopes of another late-season charge.

"I think the way you play on Sunday has a lot to do with what you do during the week," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Maybe we'll get a few more bodies back out there this week."

Among the players who returned to practice Wednesday were left tackle Tony Ugoh, who has missed the last five games, and linebacker Tyjuan Hagler, who has missed four straight games. Both have been out with neck injuries.

But Johnson, Ugoh's replacement in the starting lineup, sat out with a hamstring injury and right tackle Ryan Diem was out with a sore left ankle.

Dungy wouldn't say whether any of the four were expected to play Sunday against Jacksonville, who at 8-3 trail the Colts by one game in the AFC South.

Also out, again, was perennial Pro Bowl receiver Marvin Harrison (bruised left knee). He hasn't played since the last Jacksonville game on Oct. 22, and although the Colts had targeted this week as Harrison's return date, it doesn't appear likely he'll play Sunday.

When asked whether he'd welcome Harrison's return this week, Manning responded: "Yeah, but I wouldn't count on it."

Dungy said Harrison, who has missed a career-high six games, feels about the same and would be monitored by team doctors throughout the week.

But the three-day break seems to have recharged the Colts heading into a key AFC South game.

The Colts, who have won the last four division crowns, know that a win would not only create some separation with four regular season games left but would also give the Colts a season sweep and the tiebreaker over the Jaguars -- essentially a three-game advantage.

"They always give us problems, so we just have to go execute our attack," defensive tackle Raheem Brock said of the Jaguars.

But execution has been a problem in recent weeks, especially early.

Turnovers, kick returns, pressure on Manning and dropped passes have led to three straight sluggish starts although the Colts recovered in time to win two of those games and could have swept all three.

So will the break help the Colts get back to being themselves?

Dungy hopes so.

"It's good to get back to work, preparing for a big game," he said. "I think our team is re-energized."

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