TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said the franchise is well aware of predictions that it will suffer a dip in a transitional season.
Following a training camp practice on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology that featured both hail and sunshine, Irsay spoke of the Colts' expectations in their first year with Jim Caldwell at the helm and the first season without receiver Marvin Harrison since 1995.
"We're well aware from a national standpoint that no one is picking us," he said. "... If you read it, no one is picking us, if you look at things like in our division, who's the best defensive end, it's not Dwight Freeney and you look at who's the best wide receiver, it's not Reggie Wayne. So our guys know it, they know what we're up against in terms of having Tony Dungy gone, having Marvin gone.
"For me, this is continually part of the dream that you have: to establish greatness, to be a champion and then to go out past a decade in an era of the salary cap and to try to do some of the things that the 49ers did and take it for 15 years and win more than one [Super Bowl] and that sort of thing."
The more popular answer to the questions Irsay posed are now two Houston Texans, defensive end Mario Williams and receiver Andre Johnson. While Indianapolis is still a popular playoff pick, it's Tennessee that's the defending champion of the AFC South and Houston that's a popular pick to break out.
But the Colts have won at least 12 games for a record six consecutive seasons and have made seven playoff trips in a row while posting a .759 winning percentage.
Dungy retired after seven seasons and a Super Bowl win and Harrison, the franchise's all-time leading receiver, declined a pay cut and was released.
The Colts, however, still have Peyton Manning engineering the offense, Wayne catching his passes, Freeney rushing the passer, Bill Polian serving as the architect and ownership with great expectations.
Irsay is hoping safety Bob Sanders will be back in time for the season-opener. Sanders has not practiced at training camp after having offseason surgery to clean up his right knee.
Irsay said there was a "good chance" Sanders would be ready in time for the regular season.
"Again, there is an outstanding football team in the making here," he said. "I think we know here that what we've done in the past doesn't mean anything, it's all about '09. I think that's something I've been very direct about in talking to everyone ...
"There was really a mantra that I started early that the longer that you've been here, the more you've got to check your rationalization at the door in terms of, are you ready to really get after it? Are you really ready more than ever to commit to go get a championship? Because the competition is more hungry than ever."
Paul Kuharsky covers the AFC South for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.