Dietz: Dilger endures frightful start in Indianapolis
Any time a National Football League team's pregame news release talks about heart and effort, there's trouble.
The Denver Broncos boast about their undefeated season, and the lowly Arizona Cardinals rationalize their four losses by a total of 11 points.
Even the hapless Chicago Bears try to water down seven straight losses to Green Bay by highlighting their 81-66-6 lifetime record against the Packers. They even tell you Rashaan Salaam's 23 – that's years old, not career fumbles.
That gives you an idea of the nightmare former Illinois standout Ken Dilger and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts have been going through this season. They're 0-5 for the first time since 1991, the offense is next to last in the league and they've got the Steelers tonight. A couple of years ago, the rookie Dilger and his Colts were a Hail Mary away from beating Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game.
What makes it even worse for Dilger, a tight end in his third year at Indianapolis, is that he had to sit out last week's loss with a bum hamstring.
"It's really tough to sit on the sideline when the team's struggling to get something done," said Dilger, who started 33 straight games before last Sunday.
He expects to return tonight. However, he hasn't known what to expect this year when the Colts take the field.
"It seems like every play, something is breaking down," Dilger said. "Whether it's the protection or receivers running a different route, it's not one position. Everyone out there's taking at least one play off, and it's hurting the team."
Dilger, who along with wife Heidi lives in Carmel, Ind., can sympathize with his old college team. He hasn't been to Champaign for a game since he left school, but he watches them every week on TV.
Unfortunately for Dilger, there are seven other Big Ten alums watching the same games during their Saturday meetings. It doesn't help that quarterback Jim Harbaugh is from Michigan and fellow tight end Scott Slutzker's a Hawkeye.
"The guys from Iowa and Ohio State and Michigan really let me have it. That's the rough part of the job on Saturday afternoons."
For the most part, Sundays have been tougher.
Dilger has just six catches for 58 yards after hauling in 42 balls for 503 yards in 1996. With top draft pick Tarik Glenn struggling early at tackle, Dilger rarely has had a chance to get downfield.
"Early in the preseason, I was feeling very well, but once the season started, Tarik finally got in there and didn't gel right away," Dilger said. "I had to be used more as a blocker than a receiver."
With his speed and sure hands, Dilger's much more of a threat running patterns than fending off linebackers. As a group, the tight ends have just 14 catches and 125 yards.
"Last week the tight ends had five catches as a group," Dilger said. "Hopefully, that's a sign."
Looking at the schedule, the Colts are at 3-2 Pittsburgh tonight then host 3-2 Buffalo next Monday. The Oct. 26 game at San Diego might be the best bet for win No. 1.
"I think we'll get there," Dilger said. "I don't know how many wins we'll get. We've just got to play as a team."
Ex-Illini of the week.
It's a shame Craig "Ironhead" Heyward didn't go to Illinois because that body wash commercial alone would net him player of the year.
Unfortunately, there are no Illini hawking lather "thingies." So, we'll go back to Buffalo safety Henry Jones, who had 13 tackles and a sack in last week's 22-13 win over disappointing Detroit.
Brian Dietz is a News-Gazette staff writer. His NFL column appears Sundays throughout the season.