Stokley#039;s status uncertain due to son#039;s illness

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 16, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS - Troy Walters wants to play a key role for the Colts in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots. He'd just like to share it with Brandon Stokley.

''Hopefully, he'll be ready to step in and do what he's been doing,'' Walters said. ''If not, I've got to be ready to go.''

Stokley emerged as one of Indianapolis' top receivers during the past month, catching a team-high six touchdowns in the last five games. But he missed practice Wednesday and Thursday morning after his infant son, Cameron, was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness.

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Stokley practiced for about the first hour of Thursday afternoon's two-hour workout, but his status for Sunday's game remained uncertain. Stokley left practice without talking to reporters.

The Advertiser, a newspaper in Lafayette, La., quoted Brandon Stokley's parents saying the illness was meningitis, a potentially fatal swelling of the brain or spinal cord.

Coach Tony Dungy said Stokley's son was stable and doing fine Thursday, but Dungy has left the decision about playing or practicing up to the fifth-year receiver who won a Super Bowl ring with Baltimore.

If Stokley doesn't play, Walters and Aaron Moorehead, an undrafted rookie from Illinois, likely will.

Both said that they'd like to have Stokley playing with them although they're preparing this week as if Stokley won't be in the lineup.

''If he is able to play and his son continues to improve, then he'll play,'' Dungy said. ''If he's not, our other guys will step in and we'll move on.''

Indianapolis (14-4) has fared relatively well when faced with similar situations this season.

Walters moved into the No. 3 receiver spot when Stokley's surgically repaired foot still was a problem through the first 12 games. Walters responded and had a career-high 36 catches for 456 yards and three touchdowns.

When Marvin Harrison missed a game against the New York Jets in November because of a strained hamstring, Reggie Wayne caught nine passes for 141 yards and Walters responded with four receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown.

When Walters missed the Colts' next game, at Buffalo, Harrison had six catches for 47 yards and Moorehead caught five passes for 71 yards.

And when Walters broke his nose against Tennessee in December, Stokley emerged. He has 25 receptions for 368 yards since then and supplanted Walters as the team's No. 3 receiver.

''Brandon was probably the No. 1 guy Bill Polian wanted to get this offseason,'' Dungy said, referring to the team president. ''He thought he could really help us in the slot, he's capable of making big plays and he's done all that.''

But the Colts wouldn't be facing New England (15-2) for a chance to play in the Super Bowl if their backups hadn't produced.

They won two of three games when Edgerrin James was out with two broken bones in his lower back, and are 5-1 since rookie tight end Dallas Clark broke his right leg in the first New England game.

The Colts may need more than Walters and Moorehead to produce this week, though, for their offense to keep scoring points.