Postcard from Rose Hulman: Aug. 6

QB Peyton Manning (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Eric Hartz goes over his notes from the first three days of training camp and shares what he's learned from the first look at the 2009 Indianapolis Colts.

Thoughts, observations, and random thoughts from three busy days for the Colts at Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute . . .

  • The Colts are healthier than last year, but there are still injury concerns: Chiefly, those concerns reside in the defensive backfield, where both Bob Sanders and Marlin Jackson have been designated PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) for training camp. Sanders missed 10 games last season, and Jackson ended the season on Injured Reserve after a knee injury in a non-contact drill at practice.

    I erroneously mentioned in Tuesday's chat that being designated PUP meant a player was out for the entire preseason. In truth, a player can be activated and start practicing at any time by being removed from the list, and there are rumors that Jackson may practice next week. Less is known about Sanders, however.


    After a week on the sidelines, Jackson is eager to get on the field at training camp
    AP Photo/Tom Strattman

    "He's making real good progress," head coach Jim Caldwell said of Sanders Wednesday. "We certainly feel he's doing everything he can to get back. He's working extremely hard, he's keeping himself in it mentally, and he's into it in meetings and our practice sessions, doing a little coaching on the side as well. When he'll be back, I'm not certain, but he's making real good progress so that's really all we can depend on right now, is the fact that some point in time he'll be available."

    Indeed, Sanders has been as active in practice as can be expected, doing low-impact exercises on his own and catching balls from the machine. He has also been busy on the sidelines talking to and advising the other defensive backs during group and team segments.

    The defensive backfield is probably the unit best equipped to deal with the loss of two starters, however. Melvin Bullitt showed last season he can fill in for Sanders with little drop off, and Tim Jennings, who subbed for both Jackson and Kelvin Hayden last year, has been at Jackson's right corner spot.

    Jennings has been a whipping boy for fans throughout his career, deservedly so at times. But since proclaiming midway through last season he was determined to show the team didn't "waste a draft pick" on him, he has been much better.

    Reggie Wayne has been getting the better of Jennings in their camp battles so far, but Jennings was able to leap high and pick off a Peyton Manning pass that was underthrown in Wednesday night's practice under the lights. Wayne came back and caught a touchdown vs. Jennings on his next rep, however.

    The good news for Jennings is that, with the exception of Houston's Andre Johnson — who will probably line up more on Hayden's side — Jennings isn't going to face many receivers of Wayne's caliber during the season.

    The other big area of injury concern is K Adam Vinatieri, who is also on the PUP list. Vinatieri predicts he'll be ready for the regular season, but after dialing down his activity during the offseason and then having surgery, he's bound to have lost some leg strength. While Andrus has always been a favorite of the coaches in his previous stints with the Colts, the bottom line is he isn't Vinatieri, and it's unknown whether Vinatieri will be Vinatieri when he returns. Certainly something to keep an eye on.

    At the other positions, the injury news is better. Antonio Johnson is no doubt eager to throw himself into the defensive line mix, and Charlie Johnson is one of the team's most experienced and versatile linemen, but both units have enough depth to churn along without them for now. And the other PUP member, WR Sam Giguere, still has practice squad eligibility and may be headed back there for a second year.

    The only other injury new of note from observing practice happened late in Wednesday's evening practice, when Dallas Clark banged his wrist on a catch near the goal-line during the hurry-up drill. Clark stayed in for the next play, however, and caught touchdown. Afterwards, he went straight to the sidelines for ice, but was all smiles after practice, so the damage may have been minimal. It's something to keep an eye on this weekend, though.

  • Maybe I was wrong about Mike Hart: Regular readers know that I've never been sold on the Colts' sixth-round pick from the 2008 Draft, particularly the pedestal fans and the media tend to put him on.

    My opinion was always that Hart was a sixth-round pick for a reason, most notably his height (5-feet-9) and his speed (a 4.76 at the NFL Combine). Mostly, I felt that Hart, after being the subject of a number of glowing profiles during his decorated career at the University of Michigan, wouldn't live up to his high-profile resumé as a pro. Hart proved me wrong last summer by making the team, only to suffer a season-ending knee injury that I figured would derail his career.

    However, after watching Hart this week in practice, I'm starting to change my tune.

    He may never be a top-flight NFL running back, but Hart is showing no signs of being hampered by his surgically-repaired knee, and has been quite involved in the offense all week. He's clearly ahead of Chad Simpson and Lance Ball in the battle for the third running back position, has ripped off a handful of impressive runs, and has even been used in a two-back shotgun set and in an I-formation as a fullback.

    I'm happy to be wrong about Hart, who by all accounts is a coach's and teammate's dream. Today's NFL is changing, and the days of a workhorse running back are going away. If Hart can get in the mix and get some tough yards, he'll be a welcome addition to the offense.

  • Reggie Wayne looks primed for a big year: He made headlines for showing up in a dump truck and construction outfit, but Reggie Wayne has not only talked the talked, but has walked the walk this week. Receivers typically enjoy the limelight, and Reggie is no exception. He's hammed it up for crowd several times this week, but he's also had the opportunity because he is playing at an extremely high level. His one-on-one battles with Tim Jennings have been some of the most entertaining parts of camp.

    He said several times he thought he was in the best shape of his career this offseason, and showed up to training camp sending a message that he was ready to work. Look for another big year from this perennial Pro Bowler.

  • Competition for spots on the defensive line will be fierce: I was asked in Thursday night's chat how many players the Colts would keep on the final roster for the defensive line, and I didn't have a good answer. After first guessing nine or ten, I realized I had left out Ed Johnson, who was brought back in the offseason after being cut following an arrest in Week One of the 2008 season.

    Ten defensive linemen — and that was a lowball number — seems like a lot, but it's hard to justify a lot of cuts lower than that number. In my opinion, this is THE area to keep an eye on during training camp and the preseason, as the team has basically brought in as many players as they can to fight it out. Let the best men win.

  • New boss ... same as the old boss? There have been reports that Jim Caldwell is a bit more vocal than Tony Dungy, but there hasn't been much of a noticeable change in the way the Colts go about things. Like Dungy, Caldwell seems like a steady, even-keel leader who runs a businesslike practice.

    He's been very gracious with the fans, taking the time to come to the fence, sign autographs, and chat about the team. On Tuesday, his face lit up when he spotted a former Iowa teammate in the crowd with his family.

    "How come you always look the same as in college, while I keep getting older?" he asked his friend with a laugh.

    He may be a bit more quotable than Dungy, however. In case you missed it, he had a great line when the Colts arrived at camp and he was asked whether he was interested in distinguishing his regime from Dungy's:

    "No, not really. I don't get that sense because of the fact that obviously he's a great person to emulate. He's been great for this organization, the program, and he should. He's a Hall of Famer; he's won so many ball games and directed so many great teams that he's going to get attention. He's going to get questions. I'm going to get compared a lot. It's kind of like an old story. I was with Joe Paterno and he went down to do an autograph signing with Muhammad Ali. The two of them were sitting next to one another, and Ali had a long line of people and all the gals. Joe was over there and he had a few in his line, so he made a comment, Hey Ali, Why do you have the long line with all the girls and all the guys that are interested in talking to you?" Ali looked over at Joe and says because you haven't whipped anybody. So I haven't whipped anybody yet. So when that time comes and we get this team doing the things we certainly anticipate they can do, I think you will see things even out a little bit."

    If his first team turns out anything like the ones Dungy commandeered, they should do plenty of whipping before 2009 is over.

    * * * * *

    As I wrap this up, I realize that there's plenty left in my notebook to talk about, but it will have to wait for another day. Keep watching this space for updates about the team, and be sure to follow our Twitter updates for the latest news from camp.

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