The Indianapolis Colts have made official what the rest of the NFL already had taken for granted: The league champions will be forced to defend their Super Bowl XLI title without key defensive tackle Anthony McFarland.
Indianapolis placed the eight-year veteran on injured reserve before its Thursday night preseason opener at Dallas, ending his 2007 season before it actually began. McFarland suffered a torn patella tendon during practice last Friday, underwent surgery Tuesday to repair the damage, and faces a long and challenging period of rehabilitation.
The Colts have not revealed which knee was injured, and McFarland has not been available for comment.
General manager Bill Polian reiterated Thursday that the Colts will attempt to fill the void left by McFarland's injury from within the current roster and that they are not currently pursuing any trades for a veteran tackle. On Thursday, rookie Ed Johnson, an undrafted free agent from Penn State, started at tackle with veteran Raheem Brock and he had two sacks in his NFL debut.
Other candidates for McFarland's starting spot include third-year veteran Darrell Reid, fifth-year pro Dan Klecko, and two more rookies, third-round choice Quinn Pitcock of Ohio State and Keyunta Dawson of Texas Tech, a seventh-round selection.
Even though Polian indicated the Colts aren't shopping for a veteran tackle, Indianapolis will almost certainly study the waiver wire once mandatory roster reductions begin. The Colts struggled versus the run in 2006 and, even with McFarland in the lineup for the final 2½ months of the season, statistically ranked last in the league in that critical category.
The injury to McFarland marks the second straight year in which the Colts have lost a high-profile defensive tackle. The club played the entire 2006 campaign without Corey Simon, who was diagnosed last summer with what Colts officials termed polyarthritis. The absence of Simon, whose contract was terminated by Indianapolis last Saturday, prompted the Colts to acquire McFarland from Tampa Bay.
In a trade deadline deal, the Colts added McFarland and sent the Bucs a second-round pick in this year's draft in exchange.
McFarland, 29, played in the final 11 regular-season games for the Colts, and in all four of the club's postseason victories. He recorded 45 tackles and 2½ sacks during the season and had 12 tackles and two sacks in the playoffs.
The Buccaneers' first-round pick in the 1999 draft, McFarland has appeared in 109 games. The former LSU star has 252 tackles, 22½ sacks, four forced fumbles and six recoveries.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com