Commentary

Hey, Colts, what took you so long?

Valuable prep time ticked by while Indy hoped for Manning's swift return

Originally Published: August 25, 2011
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

Peyton Manning released an 80-word statement on the Indianapolis Colts' website Wednesday morning. Among the words not included: neck, pain, practice, play, season opener, streak, jeopardy, worried, oh, no.

The statement was simply Manning's reaction to the sad news revealed Tuesday that Pat Summitt has early-onset dementia, a precursor to Alzheimer's disease. It was a classy move by Manning, one Tennessee Volunteer supporting another, but it was trumped by the extremely loud statement the Colts also made in the morning when they announced they had lured Kerry Collins out of retirement: Manning really might not be ready to go in 18 days. After weeks of speculation, the Colts finally pushed the panic button.

It has been 14 years since a man other than Manning has started a game at quarterback for the Colts. He has been so reliable, and so reliably good, that it has been hard to imagine Indianapolis without him. It appears the Colts have had a hard time imagining it, too.

How else do you explain waiting until just a few weeks before the season opener in Houston to sign a proven quarterback who actually knows how to win a game or two? It is as though Indianapolis simply was banking on Manning's willing himself back to good health after a second neck surgery in 15 months.

Manning has never missed a start. His durability -- he's started 208 consecutive regular-season games -- is on a Favre-ian level. That is part of the reason Indianapolis has never really had a reliable backup. Who would want to play behind the guy? Certainly not someone with moderate talent and a little experience. Collins had a chance to be Manning's backup a couple of years ago. He said "no thanks."

But this is different. Manning is coming off neck surgery, not knee surgery. Thanks to the lockout, Manning wasn't able to work with the Colts' trainers, whom he trusts. By Manning's own admission, that slowed his rehabilitation.

Kerry Collins
Dale Zanine/US PresswireKerry Collins -- never known for fast starts -- was at home when he could have been getting needed reps with the Colts' offense.
The Colts should have looked down the road earlier. They should have anticipated that Manning might not be ready. Certainly they knew what they had behind him: nothing special. Curtis Painter or Dan Orlovsky or some undrafted rookie out of Kentucky isn't equipped to lead a bunch of veterans who are trying to make a Super Bowl run, no matter what Reggie Wayne says. Painter has thrown eight completions in his career. Orlovsky has played in 13 games in six NFL seasons. Neither had the benefit of minicamps and organized team activities. That fact did not change in the past two weeks.

Collins has the clout those guys lack. He was the fifth overall pick in the 1995 draft, and in 16 seasons with five teams, he threw for more than 40,000 yards. Although his career completion rate in 195 games is 55.8 percent, he has been to one Super Bowl, two conference title games and two Pro Bowls. At age 38, Collins might have gray in his beard, but it was hard-earned. His new teammates, many with Super Bowl rings, will respect that.

But why not bring Collins in at the beginning of camp, when he could have had more time to get acclimated? Wayne is correct when he says that the Indianapolis offense isn't vanilla. It will take time for Collins to learn.

It helps that Collins knows Colts vice chairman Bill Polian, who made Collins the first player drafted into the Carolina Panthers organization, and Jim Caldwell was his position coach at Penn State. But Collins has been sitting on his couch in Nashville for the last seven weeks. He will need as many practice reps as he can get. And let's face it, Collins is not exactly the fastest of starters under the best circumstances.

Stepping in for Manning with two weeks of preparation is far from the best circumstance.

The Colts have been through this before with Manning, and maybe that, too, convinced them against being proactive earlier. Manning similarly disappeared before the 2008 season. He had a burst bursa sac in his left knee that required two surgeries. He didn't take a snap at training camp, and he didn't play a second in the preseason.

Manning played in the regular season, of course. In the first three games, he completed an uncharacteristically low 59.2 percent of his passes, with three touchdowns and four interceptions. Indianapolis went into its early bye week with a 1-2 record. After the bye, Manning completed 69.0 percent of his passes, with 24 touchdowns and eight picks. The Colts won 11 of their last 13 games, including the final nine, and Manning won the third of his four league MVP trophies.

Maybe that will happen again. Indianapolis certainly hopes so, but by signing Collins and giving him a reported $4 million, the Colts made a loud statement that they don't think that will be the case.

Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.