INDIANAPOLIS -- Bill Polian plans to keep Peyton Manning on the active roster all season -- even if it means he'll only be back to practice.
While the Colts' vice chairman isn't completely ruling out a late cameo appearance by the four-time MVP this season, he's hoping Manning will be able to throw at the team's complex before the season ends.
"I think it's important for him to feel like, 'Hey I'm back, I can do the things that are necessary to say I can play like I want to,' " Polian said Monday night on his weekly radio show. "The bottom line is he needs to feel good about being back and doing the things he wants to do."
Colts owner Jim Irsay, meanwhile, seemed to imply in a series of Twitter posts Tuesday that Manning might still play in a game this season.
"8 weeks til xmas,less than 100 days til Super Bowl...Peyton's healing well,maybe he'll take a snap b4 the ball falls in NYC,New Year's eve!," he wrote Tuesday morning.
A few minutes later he wrote: "Halfway point of r season,back home Falcons, Jags b4 ByeWeek/The best scenario is #18 comes back BIGTIME 4big year n'12,we get some wins NOW."
Manning has not practiced with his teammates much since January's playoff loss to the New York Jets.
He worked out with some Colts players during the lockout before scaling things back after having May neck surgery to repair a damaged nerve that caused weakness in his throwing arm. Just about everyone, including Manning, thought he'd be ready by training camp.
When the recovery didn't go as planned, Manning opened the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, missed all four preseason games and wound up having another procedure, an anterior spinal fusion to clear up the problem just three days before the season opener at Houston.
The fusion normally involves making an incision in the front of the neck, removing soft disk tissue between the vertebrae and fusing the bones together with a graft.
It was Manning's third neck surgery in 19 months, and doctors who were not involved in the procedure said Manning wouldn't be cleared to practice for at least two months.
Since then, Manning has been seen walking briskly around the team's practice fields, teammates have said he attends meetings and provides advice and Polian has told listeners that Manning has gradually "ramped up" his activity.
On Oct. 6, Manning told reporters he'd finally been cleared to stand on the sideline, a major sign of progress because he could take an inadvertent hit.
But at 0-8 and with the playoffs seemingly out of reach, there's one big reason to push Manning to practice -- finding out how close Indy's franchise quarterback is to 100 percent.
"That is much more important to us because we know he's not going to play six or seven more years," Polian said, reiterating that Manning is nearing the end of his career and again pointing out that Manning needs to feel he can still play at a high level.
Manning signed a five-year, $90 million deal in late July, just before camp opened. The team can opt out of the deal after this season, though nobody in the organization has discussed the possibility.
And if they have the No. 1 draft pick, many believe they will take Andrew Luck as Manning's eventual successor.
But it's unlikely the Colts would play Manning in meaningless December games when they haven't played him much in previous Decembers after the Colts traditionally clinch their playoff seed, and there's another reason for keeping him on the bench this year, too.
"I'm not sure we would necessarily play him in ballgames with our offensive line as beaten up as it is right now," Polian said.
Indy was already trying to rebuild the line this season after using a first-round draft pick on tackle Anthony Castonzo and a second-round pick on tackle Ben Ijalana. Injuries, however, have forced the Colts to replace three opening-day starters along the line and move a fourth to another position.
Earlier Monday, when coach Jim Caldwell was asked for an update about Manning's status, Caldwell said: "He's still working and making progress."
Polian also understands the best-laid plans don't always work out, and it nearly happened just last week.
"We got real close to that (Manning's) spot when (offensive lineman) Seth Olsen broke his hand," Polian said.
But Polian said his son, Chris, the Colts' general manager figured out a way to keep the spot open.
The Colts placed quarterback Kerry Collins, who was signed in August to be Manning's backup, and fullback Chris Gronkowski on injured reserve and re-signed two veteran offensive linemen to the active roster.
Polian also has declined to discuss taking Luck in the draft.
"I can't tell you now, at this point in time, who we would draft just like I couldn't tell you 14 years ago, in February," Polian said referring to the choice he had between Manning and Ryan Leaf.
"We didn't make the decision then till the second week of April, and we won't make this decision till the second week of April, so when you ask me what we are going to do, we haven't even begun the process yet. Our focus will be on the draft when it is appropriate to be on the draft."