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Stampede Blue's Interview with Columnist Reggie Hayes

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We've spent a lot of time bashing and ripping the media for their coverage of the Colts this season. For a change of pace, I thought I'd highlight someone who, in my opinion, has covered the Colts extremely well, and offered fair, balanced opinions on the Colts. Yes, there are good media folks out there, and Reggie Hayes at the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel is one of them.

For those of you who don't know Reggie, he has been The News-Sentinel's lead sports columnist since 1998 (the year the Colts drafted Manning), and has worked at the paper since 1984 (the year the Colts moved to Indy). Before becoming a columnist, he was The News-Sentinel's college beat writer for 10 years.

I've never hid my dislike of the Indianapolis Star's Colts coverage, but thankfully they are not the only Colts coverage in Indiana. I've always enjoyed Reggie's Colts columns at The News-Sentinel, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions from Stampede Blue. Here's the interview:

Big Blue Shoe: Reggie, thanks very much for the time. The Colts are 9-0 and, according to Head Coach Tony Dungy, they have not played their "best game" yet? Their defense has been inconsistent and the special teams has not covered kicks well. What are the problems, and why hasn't this team played their "best game" yet?

Reggie Hayes: The No.1 reason why they haven't played their best game, particularly on defense, has been injuries. That's not an excuse. That's a fact. Everyone could see how the defense picked up its intensity when Bob Sanders played at New England. That didn't solve every problem, obviously, but it's clear how important he is to the defensive mindset. The defensive line has been unsettled most of the year, starting with Corey Simon never taking the field. The loss of Montae Reagor right at the time when the Colts acquired Booger McFarland limited what could have been a big boost to the run defense. On offense, the absence of Brandon Stokley hasn't stopped the Colts from putting up numbers, but he's that one extra weapon that could make the team even more formidable. As far as the kick coverage, it's poor execution, not injuries.

To read the rest of the interview click Read More below...

Here's the rest of the interview:

Big Blue Shoe: In my opinion, Peyton Manning is having the best season of his career; better than the record-setting season he had in 2004. You cover the Colts. You have more access to them than the average fan. What's the biggest difference you see in Manning this season as opposed to previous seasons?

Reggie Hayes: If you would have told me before the season that Manning could improve as a quarterback, I'd have been skeptical, but he is better. The biggest difference I see is how he simply does not hurt himself anymore. For example, he doesn't force passes if they're not there. You know he had to be tempted when the Bills geared their defense to smother Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Yet he'll throw a ball out of bounds, and settle for a field goal or even a punt, rather than risk a turnover early in a game. Manning also doesn't get impatient if the score remains close through two or three quarters. His confidence is at an all-time high and it rubs off on the rest of the offense, resulting in calm, collected game-winning drives.

Big Blue Shoe: What's the news on Montae Reagor? Rumors suggest he's done, or that his car accident, and subsequent head injury, were worse than the Colts let on. Yet, he was not put on the Injured Reserve list. Do you think Reagor will be back by December?

Reggie Hayes: I'd like to shed some light on this, but learning the health status of a Colts player is one of the hardest assignments in sports. The Colts, like every other NFL team, do not reveal the injury status of a player beyond the most generic description. That said, if Reagor was done for the season, I believe the Colts would have removed him from the active roster. So I have to guess - and this is only a guess - that he is expected to play again before the end of the regular season.

Big Blue Shoe: What's been the vibe in the media circles regarding the Colts? We write about "media disrespect" on Stampede Blue all the time, and while part of the media's spin on the Colts is valid (they need to win a Super Bowl) much of it appears almost dismissive of Indy. Fans seem to feel that the media is simply waiting for the Colts to lose in January, again. Is that what the media, in general, thinks of the Colts?

Reggie Hayes: Much of that vibe you sense is from the national media, which tends to simplify everything. This is not a criticism, per se, but the national media latches onto the easiest story because they are not around the Colts week by week. So it becomes "Manning vs. Brady" or "Colts can't win the big one" or something that's very much on a superficial level. The other factor is that the Colts are not controversial. There's no T.O. or Chad Johnson or Ray Lewis delivering sound bites every week. So the only thing to discuss is the Colts' play. They've won so many regular season games the last few years, those wins tend to be taken for granted by the national media. The Colts do need to win a Super Bowl to shed the negative postseason stereotypes. I'd say it's about 50-50 among the media on whether the Colts will fold again in the playoffs or finally win it all. But I guarantee if the Colts win the Super Bowl, the national media will fall over themselves to tout the team's "greatness."

Big Blue Shoe: Who's your favorite Colts player you've interviewed, covered, or met?

Reggie Hayes: Former tight end Marcus Pollard ranks as my favorite. He always seemed to be the voice of reason, and he offered great quotes beyond the usual cliché. On this year's team, I enjoy interviewing Cato June, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Stokley, Nick Harper and Jeff Saturday, among others. Dwight Freeney can be very entertaining when he's in the mood. I'm always amazed at how Manning can conduct so many interviews and rarely come off as exasperated by the process. He stands out among the NFL's superstars in his cooperation with the media. The Colts are a very easy group of players to deal with, a very professional group of players. That's a credit to them, and to Tony Dungy's leadership.

Big Blue Shoe: Who's your least favorite? If you don't want to use a current player (because you're afraid they'll kick your butt or something), give me an old one. And no, you can't say Eric Dickerson. Everyone hated him, except maybe Jeff George. And no, you can't say him either.

Reggie Hayes: It has to be Dickerson or George. I'm kidding - I didn't have significant dealings with either of those guys. Sorry if this sounds like a cop-out, but I don't have a least-favorite Colts player.

Big Blue Shoe: I bashed the offensive line for the Colts mercilessly following the playoff loss to Pittsburgh. However, this season, they have played very well. They were dominant against the Broncos in Denver. What's been the reason they have played so well?

Reggie Hayes: The more I've watched this team play, the more it seems like that Pittsburgh game was an aberration. The line has protected Manning well this year, and the running game has been a pleasant surprise without Edge. But I would argue that the line played well most of last season, too. They've been together long enough to have a real cohesiveness, even with Dylan Gandy taking over for Ryan Lilja. They play well because of that old standby - hard work. They're intelligent and they know how to work as one.

Big Blue Shoe: Dwight Freeney and Cato June are free agents after this season. Freeney is, arguably, the most disruptive force on defense in the NFL. However, this season, he has not put up the numbers. Meanwhile, Cato June was in the Pro Bowl last season, and this season he is having an even better year. Despite a myriad of defensive injuries, June has played brilliantly all year long. Freeney is going to ask for a monster contract. June is not content to have another one-year offer. Can (and should) the Colts keep both players?

Reggie Hayes: Whether they can keep both players is a question only Bill Polian can answer, salary cap numbers in hand. But I think there's no question they should keep both. I agree with your assessment of June. He's been consistently strong from game to game, despite somewhat of a revolving cast around him. As David Thornton's loss showed, it's not always automatic that a solid linebacker can be replaced at the same level. If the Colts could stop the run (they showed promise against Buffalo), Freeney's sack numbers would go up. He's still one of the most valuable defensive players in the league. The Colts need to find a way to keep Freeney and June if they want to remain a Super Bowl contender.

Big Blue Shoe: And finally, the "undefeated" Colts? The "undefeated" talk has started up again. The Colts have beaten the Patriots and Broncos in their respective stadiums. The average margin of victory for the Colts is 6.7 points. Do you think the Colts go undefeated? Why, or why not?

Reggie Hayes: I don't believe they'll go undefeated because it's just too hard to avoid at least one game where things go wrong - a couple turnovers, a defensive lapse, an untimely injury or a bad officiating call. Plus, the Colts aren't yet the defensive team they were a year ago. Now, let me qualify that by saying that at this time a year ago, I predicted they would go undefeated. So I've been wrong before. It would be a great story to write if they went unbeaten, so I'd be happy to be wrong this time around, too.

I'd like to thank Reggie Hayes of The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel for taking the time to answer Stampede Blue's questions. You can read Reggie's columns in the New-Sentinel and fine blog: Colts Connection.