Friday, November 5
By John Oehser -

Colts Veteran Punter to Handle Expanded Role
INDIANAPOLIS — Colts punter Hunter Smith this season has been one of the NFL’s most effective players at his position.

Now, the Colts hope he can be doubly productive.

Smith, the AFC’s second-leading punter, will take over kickoff duties beginning in Monday night’s game against Minnesota, Colts Head Coach Dungy said Thursday. Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt previously handled kickoffs.

Vanderjagt, the NFL’s all-time field-goal accuracy leader, will still kick for extra points and field goals.

“It’ something we’re going to try,” Dungy said as the Colts (4-3) prepared to play the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings (5-2) Monday at 9 p.m. in the RCA Dome. “We’re looking for different things. We’ve done different things all year and we’ll continue to try different things.

“It’s just one of the things we’re looking at to see if it will help us play a little bit better.”

The Colts currently rank 31st in the NFL with an average opponents’ drive start on kickoffs of the 31.3-yard line.

Smith is second in the AFC in punting with a 46.5-yard average, and he is third in net average at 39.2.

Also this week, Colts offensive players said they have heeded the words of Dungy, who has stressed the importance of not changing the overall approach in the wake of several difficult games for the defense.

The Colts have scored 59 points the last two weeks, but lost as the defense has allowed 72 points. Dungy said it’s important offensive players remember they don’t have to score on every possession to win.

“We just have to keep trying to execute well, convert third downs and keep doing a pretty good job in the red zone,” Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. “We’re just focused on the Minnesota defense, but we know their offense is capable of scoring some points.

“We’d like to covert third downs, stay on the field and keep the ball if you can.”

Colts wide receiver Brandon Stokley said the offense has high standards regardless of game-to-game circumstances.

“Our goal is to score every time we get the ball,” Stokley said. “Whatever the defense does, it doesn’t matter to us. We feel like we should. With our offense, we understand with the weapons we have, we should be up and down the field.

“If we don’t make mistakes, we should be able to score every time.”

Said Manning, “It’s a team that’s lost two in a row, not one particular side of the ball. Offensively, being the captain of the offense, all we can do is try to do job a little better. I know our defense, obviously it wasn’t their best day Sunday, but on Monday, we’ve got the home crowd behind us, and I’m looking for us to come out and have a big day.”

The Colts’ injury report reads as follows:

Wide receiver Troy Walters (upper arm fracture, out), linebacker Keyon Whiteside (knee, out), safety Cory Bird (calf/knee, doubtful), safety Mike Doss (groin, doubtful), safety Idrees Bashir (low back, questionable), cornerback Nick Harper (shoulder, questionable), cornerback Joseph Jefferson (knee, questionable), cornerback Jason David (hip, probable), offensive guard Tupe Peko (low back, probable), wide receiver Brad Pyatt (ankle, probable) and running back Dominic Rhodes (knee, probable).

Jefferson, Bashir and Harper practiced Friday and Dungy said he expects each to start Sunday. With Doss and Bird each expected to miss, Dungy said rookie safety Bob Sanders will make his first start at safety.

Peko, who missed last week’s loss to Kansas City, likely will start, Dungy said.

Whiteside sustained a torn patella tendon and is expected to miss the rest of the season, Dungy said Monday.

Dungy said a roster move involving Whiteside before Monday is possible, but added “there isn’t any real rush.”

Hopefully Hunter can kick it past the 20 yard line.