Dungy, Colts in familiar spot as minicamp begins

He is back for the 2008 season, but queries remain for how much longer? Tony Dungy still gets those questions from several circles. He understands it.

It is a question he occasionally asks himself.

''I didn't think I would go this far,'' Dungy said on Friday morning as his Indianapolis Colts convened for a mandatory three-day minicamp that kicks off his seventh season in blue and white. ''I thought after the 2005 season, after my 25th year in the league, that would be the end. Well, I'm beyond that now."

He is back, in part, because his owner, Jim Irsay, told him he needed him. He is back to help open the Colts' new home, Lucas Oil Stadium. He returns, in part, because he knows he once again has the ingredients for a marvelous team.

This time around, his family lives in Tampa while he resides in Indianapolis.

''That's going fine,'' Dungy, 52, said. ''But it's not something I want to do forever. My dad did it a long time, working away from the family. Lots of people do it. I don't think it's too much. We'll see how it plays out.

''At the end of the month or first part of June, we will blow up the old stadium. We've walked through the new place. Phenomenal. The feeling the Colts have about the city is something. It's great to be a part of. There is a connection. It's grown since I got here and has become more involved. It's not just the winning. It goes past the scoreboard.''

The ''winning,'' though, is an essential part of that bond.

The Colts have earned six straight postseason berths. They have won five straight AFC South titles. They were Super Bowl XLI champions only 15 months ago.

Dungy's trademark with the Colts has been to play fast and then faster and to employ discipline, toughness and intelligence in overcoming all challenges. Those were benchmarks Dungy believed could lead to a second consecutive championship last season with quarterback Peyton Manning synchronizing it all.

But another Manning -- Eli of the Giants -- gained the last word last season. It was the San Diego Chargers in the playoffs who knocked the Colts off their pedestal in Indy's own backyard.

''We want to stay ahead of Eli,'' Dungy said, chuckling. ''I still like our Manning. And I sense with all of our guys that they are hungry. I really do. The disappointment of not winning last year is kind of greater than the sensation of winning the whole thing the year before.''

How can that be?

How can a team be so driven that disappointment trumps success? For true competitors, it is always that way. It is the nature of the most ferocious of NFL beasts. The great players, the great teams, effortlessly propel that mindset.

That word -- mindset -- is on Dungy's mind this week.

This is the first time his rookies have worked with his veterans. Dungy said the rookies have already experienced their introduction to the Colts designs and now gain the chance to see how the veterans put those into practice. Dungy described the next three days of practice as ''stressful'' for the players. The energy, the tempo is demanding, he said.

He views this time as a major building block for the season since it is the last mandatory team gathering before training camp this summer. Three players he was asked to provide updates upon were:

» Dwight Freeney, returning from foot surgery: ''He is re-habbing. He is on schedule. He won't make it on the field until training camp. His strength is coming.''

» Marvin Harrison, who was recently questioned by police about a shooting at a Philadelphia nightclub he owns and who is returning from knee surgery: ''Marvin is here. He is in rehab mode. He is doing everything doctors are asking. We're really in the mode of looking at the football side and getting him ready to go. He's got to deal with the other things. There is a lot of misinformation out there. He has told us when the time comes, when it's all out in the open, he will be vindicated. The Philadelphia police will do their jobs and once they have something more to report, we'll look at that.''

» Peyton Manning: ''He doesn't change much. He's doing a great job.''

Running back Dominic Rhodes recently rejoined the Colts after spending last year with the Oakland Raiders -- ''he was a big part of our Super Bowl year and we hope he can step right in where he left off,'' Dungy said. I like their sixth-round draft pick, Michigan running back Mike Hart. Hart found the perfect team to offer his unique brand of effort and talent and the Colts will find creative ways for this rookie to contribute.

Right guard Jake Scott left for Tennessee and tight end Ben Utecht for Cincinnati. These are two spots that Dungy said must be replaced. Little wonder the Colts last month drafted three offensive linemen and two tight ends. Dungy expects the battle for right guard to be ''one of the things that heats up all summer.'' And since the Colts run a bushel of two-tight end sets, finding that second tight end to complement Dallas Clark is a Colts goal.

Players traditionally under Dungy have made significant leaps from their first year into their second. That makes receiver Anthony Gonzalez a central figure. He showed flashes of timely, big-play production in his rookie year. Gonzalez's development is key to the Colts' bubbly offense returning to dominance.

Dungy's staff has not changed much in the last six seasons. Since the 2004 season, he said, his veterans turned the corner in their understanding of his systems and in helping to set the pace of spreading that knowledge throughout the team.

Dungy helped lead the revitalization of the Colts, the new energy and business of downtown Indianapolis and both the team and the city help keep him fresh. And coming back for more.

''It's a great game, a great profession,'' Dungy said. ''I do enjoy it. The team we have helps create passion for me. These group of guys are special for me. All of them.''

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