Breaking down Manning's chances of starting for Colts in Week 1
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- As the Indianapolis Colts training camp wound down to its final few days last week, Peyton Manning was an apparition. He was the ghost of Peyton Manning.
The team said he was in Terre Haute, site of Rose-Hulman Institute, where camp was held, but beat man Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star said he saw Manning but once, on a golf cart one day. "I can confirm that Peyton still has all his limbs,'' Chappell revealed.
Manning wasn't going to practice that day. Rather, he has spent much of the summer getting treatment for his recovering left knee on his own -- somewhere -- and, from what I hear, has been absolutely wearing out the physical therapist, trying to get more and better flexion in the area of his surgically repaired knee.
Manning had the infected bursa sac near his left knee removed July 14, and he hasn't practiced in the five weeks since. It is one of the cloudiest injuries in sports. I am writing about it because I think there's a chance -- oh, maybe a 30, 35 percent chance if I had to guess -- that the removal of the infected bursa sac could prevent Manning from playing in the Colts' opening game against Chicago on Sept. 7. Would I bet on it? Not a chance.
Manning has started every game in his 10-year career -- 160 in the regular season and 14 in the playoffs, second in NFL ironman-quarterback history to Brett Favre -- and the Indy QB told me a couple of years ago consecutive games mean a tremendous amount to him. In fact, when I suggested to Colts center and Manning confidant Jeff Saturday that there was a chance Manning might miss the opener, he started laughing. "Peyton?'' he said. "Are you kidding? He'll be playing. It'd take a broken leg to keep him out.''
The bursa sac isn't that. Rather, it's a small sac of fluid beneath the kneecap that cushions and lubricates the knee when it moves. When Manning was at the Manning Passing Camp in Louisiana sometime between July 10-13, he began feeling feverish. "A raging fever,'' is what club president Bill Polian called it. Manning returned to Indianapolis, had the fever traced to an infection in the bursa sac, and had the little pillow of fluid removed at an Indianapolis hospital on the 14th.
"This was not an injury,'' Polian told me. "This was an illness. It was an infection. Fluid in the bursa sac got infected. But there is absolutely nothing mechanically wrong within the knee.''
That's right -- except, according to WebMD.com, the knee needs this sac to keep the areas around the bones lubricated. Not that the removal of the sac injures the knee per se, but it takes away part of the liquid that keeps the knee lubricated. Removal of the sac exposes the knee to more bone-on-bone friction than if the bursa sac had not been removed.
After surgery, the knee was immobilized -- for two weeks, I was told -- and the infection treated with antibiotics to be sure it was totally eradicated from Manning's system. "Then the incision had to heal,'' said Polian. "That's fine now. Now he begins -- he's begun -- range-of-motion exercises. He's in that process now. Now he's at the point where Mother Nature has to take over. He's close to optimum range of motion now. He's on schedule, with no bumps in the road.''
At the time of the injury, it was announced as a four-to-six-week injury. Today is the five-week anniversary of the surgery, and Manning practicing is not imminent. If we get a week from today and Manning hasn't practiced, I'd say that's a bump in the road.
Here's the big problem, as I see it. Polian says the doctors are not going to clear Manning unless they're sure he can maneuver in the pocket and has the leg strength to play an NFL game. Now, if Manning spent the second half of July (or more) with the leg immobilized, with a little longer to wait before normal activity could be resumed, the resulting muscle atrophy would take a while to get over. Thus, as of Sunday, Manning was working hard to make sure he get could full range of motion and normal flexion in the knee.
I asked Tony Dungy about Manning, and he said: "I had mono my second year with the Steelers [as a player], and until those blood tests came back normal, they weren't going to let me back out on the field. Even though I felt good, I had to do what the doctors said. Same thing here. We will do what the doctors say with Peyton. We are going to be cautious. When he comes back, whether it be Week 4 or 5 of the preseason, or Week 1 or 2 of the regular season, we don't know yet. But we'll be sure to bring him back healthy.''
So, I asked, are you saying it's possible he wouldn't be ready for the opener?
"It could be,'' he said. "Because we're not going to bring him back too fast.''
Dungy said he doesn't anticipate Manning missing the opener. But how would he know? He hasn't seen Manning practice.
"He's been able to exercise his arm,'' Polian said. "Even when he was bedridden at the beginning after surgery, he was throwing the ball. But it's been tough on him. He watches practice tapes, reads the practice scripts. In due time, this too shall pass. But like I told him, 'Let's be sure when you come back, you come back for the rest of the year.'"
The separation from the team, said good buddy Saturday, "is killing Manning. He's the ultimate competitor. He's one guy who just loves to prepare, and not being out here is just killing him.''
Everyone here says all the right things about Jim Sorgi. He's been preparing for this for five years, and he's learned under Manning and coordinator Tom Moore, and he knows what to do, and the players believe in him and all that. But let's be real. He's a one-year college starter. He's never started an NFL game. In six series commanding the team in its first three preseason games, Sorgi has led zero touchdown drives. The Bears are coming to town for the season opener, and they'll try to blitz Sorgi out of Lucas Oil Stadium.
No, it's not an ideal situation for these Colts. They have to do the right thing and make sure Manning heals properly. But they'll be challenged severely by the Jaguars this year; it won't be a sixth consecutive division-title cakewalk. Every game's always important, but maybe even more so this year, with so many vital players -- Manning, Dwight Freeney, Bob Sanders, Marvin Harrison -- being injury questions opening the season.
I got this feeling here that if Manning isn't ready, the Colts really won't play him opening night. But I'll tell you this: I'd hate to be the doctor or the coach or the club president who tells Peyton he's not playing opening night in his new stadium, and his 174-consecutive-start streak is going by the boards. Manning will flip. My guess is he'll move heaven and earth to be out on the practice field next week, so he can show the Colts enough in five or six practices to start Sept. 7.