Postcard from camp: Colts
With Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis aging, Indy's working to develop more DEs
Healthy again, Anthony Gonzalez is ready to reclaim the slot from Austin Collie
Injury-prone Bob Sanders: "This is the healthiest I've felt in a long time"
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about Colts camp, which he visited on Aug. 9. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
At the relocated Colts camp in Anderson, Ind. Brings back memories. The Ron Meyer Colts trained here too. Meyer loved seeing national writers come through. This was back in the day when the Colts were truly putrid, and they were trying anything to be good.
Remember when they traded for Eric Dickerson in 1987? A few seasons later, I went to Anderson to interview Dickerson and Meyer. They both thought the Colts were bound for glory, and SI put my Dickerson story on the cover. (That became the cover seen in A Few Good Men, when Tom Cruise picked it up at a D.C. newsstand and began reading. And by the way, I've always wanted to get a photo of that from the movie and never have. If you've got any ideas, I'd be open to them.)
Unfortunately, those '91 Colts responded to the hype by going 1-15. Whoa. The Colts left Anderson University for Terre Haute after Peyton Manning's rookie year (he's the only current Colt who remembers Anderson), and the university spent $55 million in facility upgrades to lure them back.
1. Adam Vinatieri is back. He's healthy after having a knee injury-plagued 2009 season, he's over the fact that he felt healthy enough to kick in the playoffs but the Colts used Matt Stover, and expects to play a healthy season. Vinatieri turns 38 in December, and he plans to play beyond this year.
2. Center Jeff Saturday had arthroscopic knee surgery and owner Jim Irsay says the Pro Bowler will miss 2-6 weeks. For a veteran like Saturday, sitting now and being fresh when he returns in late August/September is paramount. I was told that the surgery was not that serious, but Irsay's tentative timetable could put Saturday's status in jeopardy for the Sept. 12 opener at Houston.
3. Speaking of Sept. 12 at Houston, more than a few Colts have noticed how inflamed the Texans are about the game. "It's like the most important game in the history of their franchise, from what we're hearing out of there,'' said one Colt veteran. "They might be putting a little too much emphasis on it.''
Well, having been there, I can tell you this: The Texans won't feel they're any good -- really any good -- until they can summit Mount Manning.
The Colts are one of those teams that respects and uses the Canadian Football League as a farm system. (Bill Polian was the GM for Montreal and Winnipeg before joining the Bills in 1985.) This year's prospect: 2009 CFL Defensive Player of the Year John Chick, a 27-year-old defensive end who played the run and pass and who had 19 sacks in three seasons up north. The Colts hope the 6-foot-4, 248-pounder from Utah can be a good relief pitcher for their aging ends, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and be a good rotational defensive end.
Defensive end Jerry Hughes from TCU was Indy's first-round pick, and seemed to be the prototype Colts end: quick, an accomplished rusher (26.5 sacks in his final 26 college games). But Polian and others have been quick to tamp down the expectation level for Hughes, noting that pass rushers have steep learning curves. The Colts don't seem to be counting on Hughes to be a big producer this year, but in early practices, they're excited about him being a long-term answer on a team with ends aged 30 (Freeney) and 29 (Mathis). What Hughes needs is a good second move, aside from the speed rush outside.
On most campuses where teams train (and there aren't many teams going away to college campuses anymore), security keeps fans from players, so they can go about their meetings, meals and walks to and from dorms without being disturbed. But today, Reggie Wayne patiently signed for a group of 20 or 25 fans who came upon him.
An unusual lunch, but a good one, inside the Anderson U dining hall: I filled a sun-dried-tomato tortilla (a little dry and inflexible, but OK) with turkey, kernels of corn, lettuce, tomato, pico de gallo and a little white tortilla sauce. Along with cranberry-pomegranate juice, it hit the spot.
1. Austin Collie became a very effective replacement for Anthony Gonzalez last season, but I get the feeling Manning will be more comfortable with Gonzalez in the slot if both are healthy opening day. Gonzalez, coming back from a knee injury, benefited from spending three days with Manning early in July.
2. Speaking of guys who've been hurt a lot, safety Bob Sanders is healthy after playing in just two games last season (due to a chronic knee injury and a season-ending biceps tear in Week 8) and told me he's not looking too far ahead. "Only to the next practice,'' he said. "But this is the healthiest I've felt in a long time.'' Imagine if they have Sanders and Melvin Bullitt healthy for the season, perhaps splitting time at their safety spot to be sure Sanders can make it through 16 games.
3. Every year I hear the Colts say they need to run it better and WILL run it better -- and then the season starts and they forget about it. So I'll believe it when I see it. The Colts were last in the league in rushing last year -- a paltry 80.9 yards per game, eight yards fewer than any other team -- and have made it a focus of camp to run the ball more often and more efficiently. We'll see.
4. The left tackle spot would worry me if I were a Colts fan. Charlie Johnson has never been thought of as the long-term solution there, and he's out for the foreseeable future with a left foot injury. The severity of the injury isn't known, but he could miss time into the season, and there's no good candidate behind him. Could Tony Ugoh, who has had a couple of chances and failed to secure the job, be moved back from guard? It's a logical move, but it won't let Manning sleep any better at night.
5. Manning, by the way, tells me he has no hangover from the Super Bowl loss, or his late interception that helped the Saints seal the game. "Not at all,'' he said. "In this business, you move on. It's not a pleasant memory, but you've got to put those things behind you, and I think I have.''