Postcard from camp: Colts
SI.com has dispatched 10 writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. For the complete schedule of postcards, click here.
Setting the Scene
The Colts conduct training camp at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., about 85 miles went of Indianapolis. It is one of the top engineering schools in the country and the campus is cozy and secluded from outside distractions. The players stay in dorms and get around campus primarily by golf cart or bicycle. Practices are free and open to the public, and the turnout was excellent Thursday for a morning workout and a two-hour night practice. The sessions are heavy on teaching and light on full contact. If one word describes how the Colts go about their business, it's professional. There isn't a lot of wasted energy. They get their work done and move on.
1. It's strange to attend a Colts workout and not see Peyton Manning barking signals and feigning audibles at the line of scrimmage. Manning is expected to be sidelined until at least the middle of the month after having surgery to remove an infected bursa sac from his left knee. Manning has been doing most of his rehab work in Indianapolis, but he is staying sharp mentally by reviewing tapes of practices and preseason games. Coach Tony Dungy says it's important for him to be up to speed mentally so the offense can proceed at full speed when he returns. Jim Sorgi is working with the first team while Manning is sidelined.
2. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who missed 11 games last season with an injury to his left knee and had surgery on his right knee in the offseason, appears to be fully recovered. After being limited to one practice a day, the 35-year-old participated in both workouts Thursday. He expressed no pain or discomfort the following morning, according to Dungy. Everyone knows how talented Harrison is, but it's not a reach to say that fellow wide receiver Reggie Wayne has the best hands on the team. He snatches everything effortlessly and is coming off a season in which he set career-highs in catches (104), yards (1,510) and touchdowns (10). Has he supplanted Harrison as the team's No. 1 receiver? That's a dicey question because Manning likely will go where the coverage takes him. But don't be surprised if Wayne is Manning's receiver of choice when he absolutely, positively has to have a completion on third-and-long.
3. Dungy isn't second-guessing his decision to return for another season. He previously thought he'd retire after 25 years in the league as a player and coach, but that milestone came and went in 2005. Now, he's year-to-year. He gave serious consideration to walking away in the offseason, but owner Jim Irsay asked him return and open Lucas Oil Stadium, the team's new downtown home. Dungy did so, but with a commitment that longtime assistant head coach Jim Caldwell would be named his eventual successor. Dungy believes this team could be as talented as his 2005 squad (which did not win Super Bowl; the 2006 squad did) and says he senses a hunger in his players after they lost their playoff opener last season.
New Faces, New Places
The Colts lost starting guard Jake Scott and No. 2 tight end Ben Utecht to free agency, so they used three draft choices on offensive linemen and two on tight ends. Dungy praised his new linemen after the team's exhibition opener, saying Mike Pollak, Steve Justice and Jamey Richard did a good job. Tight ends Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi will each get an opportunity to replace Utecht, although Santi has been slowed by injury.
Looking at the Schedule
Their road schedule is brutal, with games at Minnesota, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Cleveland, Tennessee and Jacksonville. They also have non-divisional home games against New England and Cincinnati. A positive for the Colts is that three of their final four games are at home.
Memorable Image from Camp
Jim Sorgi has never started an NFL game and doesn't figure to do so this year, unless Manning, who has never missed a game since entering the league in 1998, is unable to make a successful return from knee surgery. Two things struck me while watching Sorgi during Thursday's workouts: He throws a tighter spiral than Manning and he holds on to the football too long. During an evening passing drill, he would have been ground into the turf on at least two occasions had it been a real game. He has got to listen to that ticking clock in his head.
One of the reasons for the Colts' success under Dungy is continuity. Dungy has lost only three coaches during his seven-year tenure, and of the 53 players on his roster at the end of last season, 46 had never played for another team. The importance of that cannot be overstated because it means the players have learned only one way of doing things as a pro.
The secondary returns every starter for the first time since 2000, and it's members are looking to improve on a strong 2007. Cornerbacks Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden, and safeties Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea, are fast, physical and determined. That should be bad news for opponents. Another DB who looked good on Thursday was T.J. Rushing, a seventh-round draft choice in 2006. He returned a pick for a score during a team session and did not allow a score during a one-on-one red-zone passing drill.
Although Dungy would like to get all his players some work in camp, he won't do so if it could hurt their chances of going into the regular season healthy. Consequently, fans have not seen much (or any) of Manning, defensive end Dwight Freeney, safety Bob Sanders and linebackers Gary Brackett and Tyjuan Hagler. Each is rehabbing from injuries, although everyone but Hagler expects to participate in at least one preseason game.
Defensive lineman Raheem Brock started 54 games at end from 2002-05, but moved inside the past two seasons. Now he's going back to left end in the base defense and likely will move inside in passing situations. Robert Mathis, the previous starter at left end, is moving to the ride side in case Freeney is limited to passing situations early in the year. It's uncertain what will happen when Freeney returns on a fulltime basis.