After Thursday night's preseason finale, he gave his most definitive answer yet when he said the two-time league MVP should play in the Colts' regular-season opener against Chicago on Sept. 7.
"I would be shocked if he's not there (a week from) Sunday," Dungy said. "He would have to have a dramatic setback. Right now, every step we've taken has been good."
Manning has made significant progress in the past week, six weeks after having surgery to remove an infected bursa sac from the knee.
He was activated from the physically-unable-to-perform-list Tuesday and then did some light work at practice. When he returned Wednesday, with no soreness in the knee, coaches increased his workload.
On Thursday night, he was in uniform and warming up for the first time at any of the Colts' five preseason games this year. And now, it appears, he'll be ready to go when the Colts play their first regular-season game at the new Lucas Oil Stadium.
"He wanted to see how loose he'd be after the wait in the locker room, that type of thing," Dungy said, explaining why Manning went through the pregame routine. "We had an exercise bike out there for him, but I think he's pretty happy with how the routine went."
"It was good to get back there, doing the same things the rest of the guys were doing. Having to do rehab, having to miss practice, it's not really the situation that you want to be in," Manning added. "So it was good to get back out there, get in uniform, be around the guys. And hopefully that can be the sort of the norm from here on out."
Manning's status has been scrutinized for weeks.
He didn't report to training camp July 24, with the rest of his teammates, following doctors orders to stay home. Five days later, he finally arrived in Terre Haute, Ind., but was kept out of public view until Aug. 19 when he showed up for the team's first practice at the new stadium.
Along the way, many wondered whether Manning was hurt worse than first feared, and there were lingering questions about whether his streak of 160 consecutive regular-season starts -- the second-longest by a quarterback -- might be in jeopardy.
Dungy seemed to dismiss any notion of that Thursday night, although Manning did not take reporters' questions and has avoided making any promises.
"What we wanted to do was really kind of simulate what he was going to do on game day, see how everything felt and see if he wanted to alter his routine for next Sunday," Dungy said. "I think he came away feeling pretty good about it. He told me on the sidelines that if he started, he would have felt in good shape and ready to go."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press