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Change of Identity
David Fleming
July 28, 1997
Jim Harbaugh and the Colts reported to camp intent on shedding their Cinderella image
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July 28, 1997

Change Of Identity

Jim Harbaugh and the Colts reported to camp intent on shedding their Cinderella image

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It's Not Easy at the Top

In the 1990s the Colts have had the first overall pick in the NFL draft twice and have had three other top five choices. During that period, their first-round selections have produced mixed results. Here's a look at how the team's picks have fared.

Year

Overall Pick

Player

Position

Comment

1990

1

Jeff George

QB

The Colts won 21 games in his four seasons before he wore out his welcome and was shipped to Atlanta

1992

1

Steve Emtman

DT

Major injuries to both knees limited him to a total of 14 games in his first two years; was then waived after the '94 season

1992

2

Quentin Coryatt

LB

Has displayed Pro Bowl potential when healthy, but last season missed nine games; being counted on for leadership role in '97

1993

16

Sean Dawkins

WR

Has caught more than 50 passes in each of past three seasons, but TD reception total has dropped from five to three to one

1994

2

Marshall Faulk

RB

Went to Pro Bowl first two years, but with sprained right big toe in '96 rushed for more than 70 yards only twice

1994

5

Trev Alberts

LB

Injured more often than healthy early on and has started only seven games in three years; pondering retirement because of injured right shoulder

1995

15

Ellis Johnson

DL

Started two games as a rookie but was sidelined for four games last season by a pair of concussions

1996

19

Marvin Harrison

WR

Finished third in the league among rookies in receptions, with 64, and gave the Colts the deep threat they sorely lacked

The scar is about a half-inch long and runs horizontally along the crease just above quarterback Jim Harbaugh's chin. Every now and again last week at the Indianapolis Colts' training camp in Anderson, Ind., Harbaugh would aimlessly rub the area with his fingers. The gash came courtesy of Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Gildon and defensive end Kevin Henry, who sandwiched Harbaugh during the Colts' 42-14 loss in the first round of the 1996 playoffs. The blow pinched a nerve in Harbaugh's neck, chipped one of his teeth and left him spitting blood and in need of four stitches.

If Harbaugh was looking for a reminder of a painful season, he had plenty of injuries from which to choose. He was sacked 36 times and suffered, among other things, a bruised right arm, a broken nose, a scratched eye, a bruised left hand, a sprained ankle and a sprained left knee. He was one of 19 Indianapolis starters to miss at least one game because of injury, the sprained knee sidelining him for two games. It was a rude awakening for a team that one year earlier had come within a Hail Mary pass of the Super Bowl.

So when Harbaugh rubs his chin these days, he feels his motivation for the 1997 season. Captain Comeback and his mates are trading in their glass slipper for a steel-toed work boot. "I hope our underdog era is finished, because when people call us an underdog or a Cinderella, that tells me they still think we're really not that good," says free safety Jason Belser, who has been with the club since he entered the league in '92. "I never liked that role. It's defeatist, but I went along with it because it gave us a let's-take-on-the-world attitude. Now it should be the rest of the teams that get a queasy feeling when they have to play us."

Indianapolis, 9-7 in each of the last two seasons, has to like its chances to contend in the AFC East, a division that has produced five of the last seven AFC participants in the Super Bowl. The Buffalo Bills are beginning the post-Jim Kelly era, the New England Patriots have a new coach in Pete Carroll, and the Miami Dolphins have been hit with the injury bug early in camp, having already lost their first-round draft choice, wideout Yatil Green, and special teams standouts Kirby Dar Dar and Larry Izzo, probably for the season. Because injuries forced them to start so many players last year (41), the Colts reported to camp a more mature and, at some positions, deeper team.

Belser and linebackers Quentin Coryatt and Tony Bennett were among a group of players who met last Thursday night to discuss filling the leadership void created by the free-agent defections of several defensive veterans, including cornerback Ray Buchanan and tackle Tony Siragusa. The next day, in its first blocking drill, the rebuilt line flipped a steel seven-man sled. Running back Marshall Faulk ran without pain in his right big toe for the first time since early last season.

"We beat the world champion 49ers in 1995, and we beat the world champion Cowboys in 1996," says vice president and director of football operations Bill Tobin. "We play the Packers in the regular season this year, and we're expecting the same results."

Tobin, one of the architects of the 1986 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, has a no-nonsense attitude flowing from the front office on down. Although the team is looking for more line help to protect Harbaugh, Indianapolis has not given in to the demands of its first-round draft choice, Tarik Glenn, a 6'5", 335-pound left tackle from Cal. Glenn is seeking a four-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $1.1 million a year, while the Colts are asking him to commit to five years at about the same rate. Tobin also has locked horns with fourth-year fullback Roosevelt Potts, who, after being suspended all last season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, wants out of Indianapolis.

Tobin was more than a little perturbed when injured linebacker Trev Alberts wasn't in camp last Friday. Three days later Alberts said from his home in Lincoln, Neb., that he was getting a second opinion on a damaged right shoulder that the Colts say needs surgery. Nevertheless, Tobin was fining him $5,000 a day and said on Monday through a spokesman, "We're not going to elaborate on the Trev Alberts situation. He was told to be here and he's not here, and he's being fined accordingly."

Alberts, a former first-round pick who has made only seven starts in his three seasons, in part because of chronic elbow and shoulder problems, told the team in January that he wanted to retire. On Monday, Alberts said that from the time he mentioned retirement, he told team officials of his concerns about the shoulder. "They just would not believe me," he said. "Their position was that I was lying to them." Management stipulated that if Alberts did retire, he had to return about one quarter of the $3,275 million signing bonus he received when he accepted a six-year, $8.15 million deal in July '94. Alberts was willing to return less, though he won't say how much. When negotiations stalled, Alberts—who according to Harbaugh had "begged not to play"—prepared for camp.

Alberts passed a physical on July 5, but after two light-contact practices he complained about soreness in the shoulder, which he first injured and then had surgery on while at Nebraska. In the surgical procedure Dr. Pat Clare wrapped a transplanted tendon around the shoulder joint to stabilize it. The tendon is no longer effective, Alberts says. A Colts doctor recommended reconstructive surgery and even had it scheduled for Monday, but meanwhile the club cleared Alberts to get oilier opinions, with the understanding he be back in camp by last Friday. "At this point I don't know what I'm going to do," Alberts said on Monday.

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