Colts' Simon, June might not have choice about sitting out
INDIANAPOLIS -- In a normal week, Corey Simon and Cato June might actually play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. This week, the availability of the nicked-up defenders is being debated by Colts coaches.
By clinching a third straight AFC South title, first-round bye and home-field advantage through the playoffs, coach Tony Dungy sees no reason to risk his hurting defensive starters to additional injuries -- not even perfection.
Instead, Dungy believes it's more important to let some key players rest, relax and recover.
"That's one of the luxuries we have now," he said. "We don't have to put them back in if they're not close to 100 percent."
The unbeaten Colts (13-0) are likely to face this dilemma each week until they either lose, ending a quest to become the NFL's second perfect team, or the games start to matter again in January.
Players insist they'd like to chase both history and a Super Bowl title, but understand that Dungy must make decisions he believes are best for the team.
"You want to win because as a professional you always want to win," Simon said. "That has to be your ultimate motivation."
But in the case of Simon and June, the biggest factor may be their health.
Simon, a former Pro Bowl defensive tackle, showed up with a walking boot on his sprained left foot Wednesday, an injury incurred in last week's 26-18 victory at Jacksonville.
June, tied for the NFL interception lead among linebackers with Cincinnati's Odell Thurman, has played most of the second half of the season with a sports hernia and also has a sore knee and ankle. He missed Sunday's game.
While both sat out practice Wednesday, they said they felt good and were still hopeful they would play against the Chargers.
If Dungy sticks to his earlier statement, Simon, June and defensive end Robert Mathis may not have a choice. Mathis was listed as doubtful with a foot injury.
Dungy appears leery about risking a Super Bowl run by exposing starters, especially those already hurt, and with good reason after Peyton Manning provided a brief scare early Sunday when he tripped while backpedaling.
"When you have things clinched, that absolutely comes into play," Dungy said. "Right now, Corey and Robert probably will be held out. Cato says he's feeling better, and if he does practice tomorrow, I'd say there's a good chance he'll play."
Simon has endured this scenario before.
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles started 13-1 and then rested their starters for the final two weeks. Some critics complained the Eagles would be rusty when the playoffs began, but Philadelphia still won the NFC title before losing to New England in the Super Bowl.
And Simon believes this Colts squad is savvy enough to do the same thing -- if that's Dungy decision.
"Nobody goes out there thinking 'I have to come out healthy,' " Simon said. "When you go out and play cautiously, that's when you get hurt."
Simon's season has already taken some unusual twists.
He was a holdout in Philadelphia after the Eagles placed the franchise tag on him. In late August, the Eagles rescinded the tag, making him a free agent. Four days later, the Colts made Simon their biggest acquisition -- literally and figuratively -- by signing the run-stuffer to a multiyear deal.
Simon, listed at a generously light 293 pounds, spent the first half of the season learning a new defense and getting back in football shape. Now, Simon has become a bigger part of a defense that has not allowed a 100-yard runner all season.
June has had a breakout year. The converted safety earned a starting job last year and emerged as a playmaker during the first half of the season when he picked off five passes. Injuries have slowed him recently, but June still ranks second on the team with 99 tackles and would rather play than sit.
"You never want to take a break, you want to play," he said. "At the same time, it's what's best for you and what's best for the team. You want to do what's best for the team."
That may mean sitting for a second straight week now that the Colts have achieved all of their regular-season goals.
But ultimately, whether the Colts play their starters, even those who are hurt, will be Dungy's.
"As a professional, you want to be out there, so nobody's looking to take time off," Simon said. "But whatever coach Dungy decides, we'll do."