Todd Taylor: The team lost a lot of quality free agents in the offseason while gaining only a couple which is normal for this team. But despite that, how do you think the team will be better this season?
Bill Polian: First of all, I approach every season as a new season. Our record is 0-0 and whatever we did in the past doesn't count. In terms of improvement I think our draft class will help there pretty dramatically. There is no question that Antoine Bethea is going to help at safety. Tim Jennings, I think, will provide significant help at corner once we get him back into the swing of things. Dylan Gandy has stepped up and done a nice job at left guard in Ryan Lilja's absence and that has been a plus. Gilbert Gardner, of course, we drafted two years ago, has stepped in and played pretty well at strong linebacker filling in for David Thornton.
So we have to just continue to move on. You're going to have free agency losses when you're a good team, particularly one that drafts well. I don't like it any more than most fans do, but the alternative is less palatable and that would be having a non-competitive team in Indianapolis. So we live with the system we have and we continue to draft well and bring players in that can help us.
TT: Gilbert Gardner has shown flashes of potential but has had some problems with injuries. With it being early in his career, is that something that concerns you and how do you feel about the depth beyond Gilbert at the outside linebacker position?
BP: I think Freddie Keiaho will prove to be a good addition and I think Tyjuan Hagler has already proven to be a good addition, he was coming off an injury that occurred last year; so this is really his first training camp and he had a fine camp. Keith O'Neil is a very valuable special teams player for us and Rob Morris has maybe had his best camp since he's been with the Colts, so we think we have pretty good depth at the linebacker position and I think that's probably evident in the fact we've been getting a lot of calls from people around the league that are interested in our backup linebackers. Gilbert's had some bad luck with injuries, so that's just bad luck and you can't predict it, and there isn't much you can do to prevent it. We don't have any conditioning problems with any of our players, so if lady luck smiles on him I think he'll have a great year.
TT: When Edgerrin James wasn't retained, many people were surprised at the contract Adam Vinatieri was offered. Why did the organization feel Vinatieri was worth that kind of money?
BP: If you look at Vinatieri's money as compared to Vanderjagt and a kickoff guy, it's a wash. There isn't any appreciable difference and Adam Vinatieri does both jobs and does them both very well.
TT: Toward the end of the season, the combination of Ryan Diem's injury and possibly fatigue seemed to be taking its toll a little bit on the offensive line. What is your feeling about the offensive line heading into this year?
BP: I didn't see any fatigue on the part of the offensive line. I thought that aside from the playoffs, the game with Pittsburgh, we've done a terrific job. We've been among the least sacked teams in the league every single year and if something short of perfection is bad, I'll take that most every time. So we don't think there's a problem with the offensive line.
There's a tendency with this team for the media to try to nitpick any time anything isn't perfect; if the offense doesn't score 35 points there's something wrong with the offense. When the defense is third in the league in points allowed, it's not as good as it should be against the running game. I don't get into nitpicking; I'm into winning football games. This is not a game of perfect, to quote Bob Rotella, the famous golf psychologist, this is a game of doing your best and winning and we've done a good job of that.
I didn't see any fatigue on the part of the offensive line, I don't know where that comes from; sounds to me like that's a concoction of someone in a newsroom somewhere trying to nitpick. We didn't have any appreciable injuries to speak of on the part of offensive line and we had a less than stellar game in executing our protection schemes against Pittsburgh.
We've done exhaustive study on that and determined that it was execution, not scheme, that was the issue. I've never heard of that fatigue one before and there's no evidence of any kind to indicate that there's any truth to that.
Maybe it's an outgrowth of the "we're too small" canard, which the defense, of course, proved was without merit. So someone who still believes that may be trying to force it onto the offensive line, but like I said there is absolutely no evidentiary proof of any fatigue on the part of the offensive line.
TT: You probably expect a lot of small injuries in the preseason, but the defense has a bunch of nagging injuries which have prevented them from playing together as a starting unit. With all the media hype and fan anticipation with this Giants game, how do you think they'll handle playing together for the first time on that type of stage?
BP: The first thing is that media hype doesn't have anything to do with us. If the media were to play the game, I'd be worried about the media hype and I also wouldn't pay to see it. But they aren't going to play and we are, so what they have to say doesn't count.
The players who have missed time in the preseason are by and large very veteran players that have been through two or three seasons, who have playoff experience; and we played a lot of big, well-covered games during the regular season. We're the winningest team in the NFL over the last four regular seasons. Media hype is nothing new to us and we've learned to turn it off, which is what you have to do if you're going to be a good team.
The people like Bob Sanders and Jason David who've have had some nagging injuries in the preseason will be perfectly fine when the lights go on against the Giants. Those guys have played together during a lot of regular and playoff seasons so they don't need a lot of preseason work to get ready. That too I think is a nitpick that people throw out there to create stories when there really are none.
It should also be noted, and I've said this many times, 80 men is not enough to go to camp. The NFL Europe exemptions are useless in terms of getting a team ready to play. This rule is ruining the product in the NFL and we better recognize that and worry about trying to create a number that allows us to go to camp and have the offseason program and prepare our teams the best way we can. Eighty is simply not enough in today's environment; practice and offseason environment.
TT: Along those lines what is your view about the preseason being too long, do you feel this to be true?
BP: No, I do not. I think four games is exactly right for the preseason. The problem with the preseason is not the length of the preseason it is the size of the roster. Much has been made of Clinton Portis' diatribe, but it should be noted that Clinton Portis got hurt in the first preseason game so whether he played one, two or three, he still would've been hurt. The issue is, and not to denigrate him, I suspect that what he and I are really saying is the same thing; that the rosters aren't large enough.
If you're going to have an offseason program and 14 offseason practices, which essentially are spring practices like in the colleges without pads, and then you're going to have a full on training camp where it's up tempo and hitting for two-a-days, 80 men is not enough and I can't say that often enough or loudly enough and the NFL Europe exemptions have no bearing on that. Those players tend to be hurt and get others hurt because they're not of the quality necessary to compete in the NFL. The bottom line is that the problem is not the number of preseason games we play; it's the size of the roster in camp.
TT: What is this point of the offseason like for you personally, are you as anxious as all the fans to get things started?
BP: No, I'm not. We're not fans, we very much appreciate the support of the fans and we very much want to renew that support but we operate in a different environment and on a different wavelength. Right now, we are turning all of our attention to trying to improve, to get as close to perfection as we possibly can at various positions where we've either had injuries or where we feel that maybe we can improve. So our focus is not on getting anxious to get to the regular season, it's on what's going to be on the waiver wire, what trades we can make and how we can reconfigure the team to put the best 53 we possibly can on the field in New York.
In-story photo: AP/Michael Conroy