Postcard from camp: Colts
The Colts do what every team in the NFL should do. They train just far enough from home (78 miles southwest of Indianapolis) at a bucolic campus (the prestigious Rose-Hulman Institute, home of the Fightin' Engineers, where Advanced Calculus is a cake class), with excellent sight lines for fans at the main field and an adjacent practice field. Moreover, the team has the ability to interact with fans (
"It's great to get away here,'' Manning said. Not all players feel the same about leaving their home bases, but I cannot repeat it enough: For team unity and the ability of fans to get close to their team, training camp away from home, but not too far away, is ideal.
He's a great story, a south Florida kid who had to go to military school in Vermont because of grades, then went to Ohio powerhouse Mount Union College because had no Division I football options. Last year the Colts picked him in the sixth round and basically had him redshirt the season. Now he knows Wayne's left spot and the right receiver spot as well, and if he's reliable, Manning's going to him, because Manning's made such a living throwing to the right. He'll do so again with Gonzalez and Garcon -- one or the other, or both -- out there.
Not much will change in how Manning plays or how he learns, but if possible, his comfort level will increase, because now he's got the trusted Reich as his day-to-day teacher and Caldwell, who he respects a lot, as his overseer. "I like a guy who's played the game, here in my 12th year, learning from a guy who played for a while,'' Manning told me. "He's been through it. He knows what I'm going through. He's very thoughtful, and he's got a calm way about him that's going to be good for me, and he was a semi-kind of a coach during his career.''
"You can't have a glaring weakness and be a championship team,'' said the owner,
So here came Brown, who averaged 5.4 yards per rush in three starting seasons at UConn. Watching him here, Brown showed good hands and a strong burst. Addai is still the number one back, but it won't hurt him to have a strong back pushing him, because if Addai isn't somewhere in the 4.0 range, the Colts think they're too good everywhere else to be tied to an under-producing running back.
Manning, healthy, not favoring his 13-month-old surgically repaired knee. I sat with him for a while between practices, looked at the knee, and couldn't tell anything was amiss. Watching him for much of a two-hour padded afternoon practice, I knew he was fine.
I noticed a beeline toward the chicken stir-fry in line at the Rose-Hulman cafeteria, where the Colts eat, so I gave it a go. Small chicken strips with bok choy and broccoli over steamed rice, in a light sesame/soy dressing. It was fabulous, a little sweeter than most chicken stir-frys, with the crunchy broccoli that signifies you're eating something good and not something just green for show. I could eat that five days a week. Had a lettuce-and-carrot salad from the salad bar (lettuce was a little brown around the edges) with the raspberry vinaigrette. "Are we an 'A?' '' the anxious food-services manager asked me, because Rose-Hulman knows my stupid gig. Almost.
• The defensive line's going to be stouter. One change in going from the
• Speaking of a stout defensive line,
• We have a pockmark on
• The Colts have a bit of an inferiority complex. For years Indy's been the king of the hill in the conference, along with New England. Now the Patriots, Steelers and Chargers are all seen as their superiors, and the Titans their equals. It's one of those things the players are hit with every day. They feel the outside world thinks time is passing them by, and they've all filed it away as motivation.
• If I'm the Colts, I don't love the schedule. How about Miami, Arizona and Tennessee on the road in the first five weeks, and a Jan. 3 finale at Buffalo? I see the Colts as an 11- or 12-win team with Manning healthy from the start, but I don't think it'll be easy getting there.