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.
"I didn't have time to think. You don't have time to think when the ball's coming at you 100 miles an hour.'' --Rookie Jets tight end Dustin Keller, on what he was thinking when Favre's first touchdown pass as a Jet was in the air, headed for Keller's hands in the end zone.
"There's a couple of balls there that we would have liked him to come up with. That's discouraging because he was paid an awful lot of money, paid like one of the top five receivers in the NFL. We need him to make those plays.'' --Oakland coach Lane Kiffin, on wideout Javon Walker, who signed a ridiculously bloated six-year, $55 million deal with the Raiders in the offseason, despite missing 23 games in the last three years due to injury.
"We can't be the Patriots. The Patriots, they epitomize the whole team concept. Those guys are all about team and that's it. We're not them. We are a team that has a bunch of names, a bunch of personalities and a bunch of youth.'' --Dallas linebacker Bradie James, to NBCSports.com's Tom Curran.
There's not been a bigger impact rookie in the first two preseason weekends than Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, the first-round pick we all criticized because the Titans had taken running backs high in the previous two drafts. Here are the yards for each of the 14 preseason carries of the lightning-fast Johnson, from East Carolina:
Versus St. Louis: 3, 3, -1, 6, 0, 66.
Versus Oakland: 15, 15, 2, 2, 13, -3, 0, 2.
First 14 NFL carries: 123 yards (8.8 per carry).
When the New England Patriots released their Physically Unable To Perform list at the start of training camp, the first three names on the alphabetized list were:
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Jarvis Green, Ellis.
Two more things about BenJarvus Green-Ellis:
1. He might be the first person in NFL history with two first names, two last names and two colleges. He played two years at Indiana, then redshirted a season, then played two years at Ole Miss. So you might label him "BenJarvus Green-Ellis Indiana-Mississippi.''
2. He might be the first player in college football history to lead one Division-I school in rushing for two years, transfer, then lead another Division-I school in rushing for two years. In order, he had 938 and 794 yards at IU, sat out a season, then 1,000 and 1,137 at Mississippi.
Friday morning, 6:10, Towne Place Suites, Albany, N.Y.
I walk from the side door of the hotel, across the street from the Giants' training camp at the University at Albany (who calls a place the "University at'' something, by the way?), and begin to look for my car. I never remember where I park. And this morning, I forget what rental car I picked up in Boston for the drive to Foxboro and then to Albany. Then I think I remember: Pontiac Vibe. I look for the funky little car. Can't find it. I take the key fob and start pressing the door-open button, walking around the parking lot and wondering where the heck is the Pontiac Vibe. Finally I hear a faint "beep'' and walk toward it.
It's a red car. Can't be mine. Mine's a little Vibe. This is a two-door Ford Mustang. I look down at my Hertz key chain. Sure enough, "Ford Must 2DR,'' it says. Hmm. Now I remember: The Vibe was in Cincinnati/Indianapolis/Terre Haute earlier in the week. Thank God for the key fobs that make the cars beep now.
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of preseason Week 2:
a. Just a hunch, but when Sean Payton saw the highlight on TV Thursday night of Leodis McKelvin of the Bills returning a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against Pittsburgh, I bet he had second thoughts about passing on McKelvin (the Saints loved him) and taking Sedrick Ellis in the first round last April.
b. If I'm Mike Tomlin, I'm asking myself: Why can't Dennis Dixon be my No. 2 quarterback? At least until Charlie Batch comes back. That's no fifth-round-looking player. Dixon is poised and throws a zinger of a fastball.
c. You can't tell me the Titans are looking at Vince Young's game against Oakland -- he completed one of his last 10 throws -- without getting a little nervous.
d. John Harbaugh says Troy Smith and Kyle Boller "have separated themselves'' from Joe Flacco. Looks like Smith over Boller for the starting job in the Baltimore opener from what I'm hearing. And why not? Boller continues to be frenetic. Smith's more of a calming presence, and he's got the respect of his defense.
e. I know the state of Minnesota inhaled deeply when Tarvaris Jackson went down with a wrenched knee Saturday night in Baltimore, but if you bleed purple, ask yourself this question: Are you positive Jackson gives your team a better chance to win at Lambeau Field on opening night than Gus Frerotte? That's not a knock on Jackson, who I like and I believe deserves a very long chance at being the Vikes' quarterback of the future. Just a statement that Green Bay, all jacked-up, might not be the best environment for a 25-year-old kid with 14 career starts.
f. Michael Turner played 10 minutes Saturday night against Indy and ran the ball four times for Atlanta. The carries: 52, 0, minus-2, 63. I still think you should not ignore my fantasy warning about Turner, who will be playing behind a porous offensive line.
g. Jay Cutler completed his first 12 throws against Dallas. Matt Schaub hit on 12 of his first 14. The thing about preseason football is those could mean everything and those could mean nothing. For instance, Favre was given diverse and daunting formations in the 20 plays he had to know for Saturday night, but no throw he made was a challenging deep ball. "I should be able to complete those,'' he said. And you never know whether the defense is showing very much in the preseason either. So I wouldn't be feeling like you've got to think of changing your preseason opinion of Cutler or Schaub just yet.
h. Chad Pennington did look good in a limited appearance against the Jags, compiling a nearly identical night to Favre (5-of-6 in three series to Favre's two), but the two most impressive Miamians on offense were Ricky Williams (10-for-43), who is working his way up Tony Sporano's hit chart, and backup QB Chad Henne, a workmanlike 17-of-26 with no turnovers in three quarters.
i. Remember this name: Brandon London. He'll be on an NFL team this year. He's a free-agent Giant wideout from UMass, and when I watched him the other day, all I saw was a fearless, tall guy who caught everything in his zip code.
j. And remember this, too: David Tyree is the only remaining Giant on the PUP list this morning, and the team has a glut of good wideouts. I think it's likely Tyree spends the first six weeks of the season on physically-unable-to-perform, but I also think Tom Coughlin loves his moxie and playmaking ability so much he'll find a way to wedge him back onto the roster.
k. If I were a longshot player in a training camp, I'd want to go to four teams -- Giants, Bills, Jags, Lions. Because you can go to a camp run by Coughlin, Dick Jauron, Jack Del Rio or Rod Marinelli, and if you're clearly better than the draftee or a bubble veteran, you've got a good shot to make the team.
l. The Colts really like Pierre Garcon, who is not the waiter at the French place in downtown Indy. He's their Mount Union-draftee and speedy receiver/returner.
m. Is there a good reason why the Seattle Seahawks should keep Charlie Frye? I can't think of one.
2. I think John Lynch is a natural for the Patriots. I also think there's a good back-story to this one-year, $1.5 million deal. I like how Lynch, unlike a lot of veterans, eschewed more money and more playing opportunity to go to New England. (The Jets cleared mucho cap room to make room for Lynch, then got jilted at the final hour by a guy who views his time in the game as short and wanted to go where he had the best chance to win.)
With the Patriots, I expect the 37-year-old Lynch to fill the kind of role Tank Williams was going to fill for New England before he went down for the year in training camp with a right knee injury. Lynch will be a kind of hybrid safety-linebacker who can play tight ends and slower receivers physically and cover well. How many plays a game? Fifteen, 20. The Patriots would probably sign for that right now, Lynch playing quality football for 15 snaps a game and staying healthy for 16 weeks. Or 19.
The back-story, to me, is what an honorable and well-respected player Lynch is ... and how interesting it is that of the three teams that pursued him most seriously when he left Denver, the Patriots had the worst offer in terms of money and playing opportunity. Lynch saw two things: the best chance to win a Super Bowl (his primary motivation in signing in New England, by far) and the chance to play for Bill Belichick, the kind of defensive innovator Lynch wanted to play for before he retired.
3. I think when I see Michael Phelps give his quasi-goofy thrill-of-victory smile and aw-shucks look, I see a lot of the Eli Manning aw-shucks look. Giants fans, you know what I'm talking about.
4. I think I don't want to hear what great fans the Jets have. Not for a long time. That crowd Saturday night was a disgrace. At least half the stadium was empty for Favre's debut in a Jets' uniform. I expressed my amazement to a few fellow scribes Saturday night -- emphasizing that N.Y. traded for an all-time-great quarterback, not a broken-down one -- and they gave varying reasons for the poor turnout. Like it's the middle of vacation month for New Yorkers, and it's a preseason game. Horsefeathers. If you really love your team, and you have season tickets, you should have been at that game unless you were in Tibet. Ridiculous.
5. I think Rex Grossman's shaky outing in Seattle on Saturday night -- he was blitzed heavily in producing no points and a tipped interception in 23 offensive plays -- should make the Bear coaching staff's decision easy. As did something Grossman said after the game. "This will be my fifth year with this coaching staff,'' he said. "They've seen me for four years. I think they should know [about me].'' They do, which is why Kyle Orton should start the opener at Indianapolis.
6. I think NBC probably didn't have a Jim Sorgi-Orton battle in mind when Dick Ebersol gave the league his choice for the opening Sunday-nighter.
7. I think this would be a good category for MMQB: Like Father, Like Estranged Son Dept. And this would be my first entry: On Wednesday, Belichick told his players he would cancel night meetings and waive curfew if nose tackle Vince Wilfork caught a punt while holding a football in either arm. Wilfork caught the punt, and the players, smelling freedom, went wild. On Thursday, New York Jets coach Eric Mangini told his players he would cancel night meetings and waive curfew if kicker Mike Nugent made a 53-yard field goal. Nugent made the field goal, and the players, smelling freedom, went wild.
8. I think I wonder where Mangini learned that one.
9. I think we shouldn't get all hot and bothered about it yet, but Reggie Bush, who seemed patently certain when I spoke with him three weeks ago that his career 3.7-yards-per-carry average is not the real Reggie, has carried 14 times in the preseason, for 46 yards. That's 3.3 yards a clip. Uh-oh.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. If that one Chinese gymnast -- the one on the left of the photos of the gold medal Chinese gymnastics girls holding their medals -- is more than 12, my name is Mao Tse-Tung.
b. I like how the IOC is vigilant about every petty little thing that comes across its desk, which it probably has to be. And then, when the world can see the Chinese have clearly and blatantly violated the rule that Olympic gymnasts must be at least 16, the IOC plays dumb.
c. Journalist of the Week: Simple choice. Steve Politi, columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger. On Saturday, Politi wrote three full-length columns, all with a smart, deft touch. One was on the Canadian Olympic team, 326 members strong, being medal-less after a week. One was on the phenomenal Michael Phelps' win by a fingertip in his Friday night race. And the third was on the class of the women's gymnastics team. All good reads. When do you sleep, Steve?
d. I wonder how fast Usain Bolt could have run, and how much time he could have shaved off the world record, if he'd run all the way through the finish line in his 100-meter romp instead of starting to showboat with 10 meters left.
e. I could watch the Olympics for three hours in a row, and have many nights. I love 'em. As I travel to camps, I find players are watching too. The Giants told me they were all watching Michael Phelps and the gymnastics girls.
f. Is Michael Phelps Michael Jordan? So hard to put him in context. He had his performance for the ages over an eight-day period. How do you measure the best performance in any Olympic games ever against athletes who do something over many seven- or eight-month seasons? I don't know how you'd do it. So much of what Phelps has done is train, train, train. So much of what great players in other sports do is play games, play games, play games.
g. I hope Alicia Sacramone does not carry her fall off the balance beam the same way Bill Buckner was forced to carry the Mookie Wilson grounder between his legs in 1986. It's not fair. I asked a few Giants about her Thursday and Friday. David Diehl, the left tackle, said it best. "She goes to Brown, right?'' Diehl said. "She's smart. She's obviously done a lot of great things in her life to be at this point. She can do anything she wants in life. In athletics, things aren't always going to go your way. When you get knocked down like she has, you've got to get up, and with her background, I know she will.'' I hope so.
h. Did you notice in one game last week -- Boston 19, Texas 17 -- that the Red Sox 2-3-4 hitters combined for 11 runs, 10 hits and 13 RBIs?
i. In that same game, in the first inning, David Ortiz hit two home runs and Kevin Youkilis struck out two times.
j. There is one word to describe watching Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch a baseball game: excruciating. Or maybe two: excruciatingly rewarding. He's 14-2. He's also averaging 5.4 walks per nine innings. And he must lead the majors in three-ball counts. He started the first inning the other night with a walk and a 3-0 count. Then he shut out Texas for seven innings. Weird, weird pitcher.
k. It's silly that there's interleague play in the big leagues now, but when a player gets traded to the other league, his stats don't carry over.
l. Thank you, Pete Abitante, for your kindness to Mike McGuire. You're a good man.
m. Coffeenerdness: Have I extolled the virtues of Pike Place Roast at Starbucks? Not enough. That's some great everyday coffee for the home machine. Try it half-decaf if you're buzzing around the house too much. Half is plenty.
n. So I see Gary Myers of the New York Daily News in the press box at the Meadowlands on Saturday night. He tells me the doctor about to give him a colonoscopy last year says to him, "Do you know Peter King?'' Myers says yes, and the doc proceeds to tell him what a kook I am for beginning the prep work for my bowel cleanout just before a two-hour-and-40-minute plane trip. You think that's the first time I've heard that one, doc?
o. Chris Russo and Mike Francesa, you deserve many kudos for 19 fun years of sports radio at WFAN in New York. Great work. It ended the other day with Russo agreeing to a new deal with Sirius. It's not easy to break out of one's comfort zone and try something new and totally different, but for the Mad Dog, it's time.
p. There will come a day -- I don't know when; five years, seven maybe -- when you will have the same number of satellite radios in your possession as cars. It's coming. It can't be stopped.