By Quintin Harlan
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
The term “next man up” has become a requirement for players on the Indianapolis Colts.
The ideal was brought to the team by former head coach Tony Dungy upon his arrival in the Circle City in 2002, and it carries on through his successor, Jim Caldwell, today.
The philosophy entails more than just all 53 players in uniform ready to step up in games at a moment’s notice. According to Dungy, the roots of the plan take hold before helmets and shoulder pads get put on.
“It can’t start on Nov. 1 when you got a lot of guys hurt. It’s got to start during offseason workouts and the veteran guys helping guys get ready,” Dungy said after he was inducted into the Colts’ Ring of Honor during Monday’s game against the Houston Texans. “It starts with Peyton Manning driving to Columbus, Ohio, to help Anthony Gonzalez learn what’s going on while he is still in school (at Ohio State). That is the mentality that all of these guys had. There’s no hazing, guys have to earn their way. Help everybody, be ready and help all 53 guys go, and when they have to step up, then they do.”
“Whoever is there has to somehow find a way to do the job,” quarterback Peyton Manning said. “It’s what you have to be able to do, right?”
Two of the latest examples of the “next man up” philosophy were running back Mike Hart and tight end Jacob Tamme in the Colts’ 30-17 win over the Houston Texans on Monday night.
Both are in their third year in the Colts’ organization. Hart was a sixth-round draft pick out of Michigan, and Tamme was selected in the fourth-round out of Kentucky.
When the season started, both were down on the depth chart behind incumbents. Hart was third behind Joseph Addai and Donald Brown. Tamme’s prospects for getting some extended playing time past a couple of snaps to give Dallas Clark a breather didn’t look too good.
Then the reality of life in the NFL hit. Everyone on a roster is one play away from not playing. Addai goes down with a shoulder injury and is expected to be gone for a month. Clark has to have surgery on his wrist, and he’s done for the season.
Both got the starting nod against the Texans, and both were key contributors in the victory for Indianapolis.
Hart rushed for 84 yards on 12 rushes. The first time he touched the ball he exploded over the left side for a 35-yard gain.
Tamme’s night started a tad rougher. The first pass from Peyton Manning went Tamme’s way, but the ball was dropped. Tamme didn’t disappear from the game plan. He ended with six catches for 64 yards and scored the first touchdown of the game for the Colts on a 2-yard reception in the first quarter. An earlier reception made by Tamme for 26 yards set up the score.
“Lots of change on this team, a lot of new guys playing,” Manning said in the postgame press conference. “Jacob Tamme really playing his most extended playing time of his career. Mike Hart always runs hard, but getting his first start also and made some huge runs.”
Despite the near-constant turnover in the starting lineup this season, the Colts see almost nothing wrong with having to plug in new players game in and game out.
“I think it just starts at the top — management, bringing great guys in here, great backups in here,” Hart said. “Coaches get us prepared. We always have to prepare as if we’re starting the game. We do that all year. We do it all offseason.”
“We take it very seriously,” Tamme said. “The ‘next man up’ thing is great when you can do down the field and score with the ‘next man up’ motto going. Everybody has confidence in everybody, and that is the neat part about being a part of this team.”