Authored by Anthony Holds - 20th May, 2006 - 3:28 pm
And now we enter the Dog Days. Not the dog days of summer, mind you. Those actually can prove somewhat satisfying for NFL fans as they bring with them the start of training camp. No -- as eternal and frustrating as preseason can occasionally seem, nothing quite compares to the period that begins following the draft at the end of April and runs into the opening of training camp in the latter half of July.
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Yes, summer is a time of barbecues with friends and family, cold beers and wonderful long days that stretch lazily into warm, pleasant nights. But it is also a time when the diehard NFL fan spends hours and hours pathetically scrounging for meaningful morsels of news about his or her team in various publications and websites. This might even constitute the reason you?ve found your way to this article, and if so? I salute you, and I feel your pain. Come with me now, as I weigh in on what could be the last of our juicy news as Colts fans for a while.
Luckily we can still talk about the draft and subsequent free agent signings. The Colts, as had been widely speculated, grabbed LSU?s Joseph Addai with their first pick. After all the Polian subterfuge about not needing to go running back in the first round and some more chatter about the Colts trading up or down, it is clear they felt he was a good fit. His skill set is, by all accounts, very similar to that of Edgerrin James (i.e. a versatile back who can catch the ball and also is capable of picking up the blitz on passing downs). The party line, of course, is that he will share time with Dominic Rhodes and, to a lesser extent, James Mungro to start the season. This is likely true, but I think it?s also safe to say that the team would love him to emerge as the featured guy as early as possible. Rhodes is a horrendous injury and half-a-decade removed from his surprisingly effective rookie season, and it should not be forgotten that, even as he ran for all those yards in 2001, the Colts were not exactly tearing up the league ? posting a disappointing 6-10 record which assured that Jim Mora got a ticket out of town. Polian also has a history of draft day success when it comes to backs (James, Thurman Thomas in Buffalo, etc.) and so we can only hope and trust that it will continue with Addai.
In the subsequent rounds six more players were picked up who should find ways to contribute. Tim Jennings, the second round pick, is a tough, fast, explosive cover corner from Georgia with good hands. It is hoped that he will have an immediate impact and be able to play extensively as the nickel corner, which would free the team to experiment with Marlin Jackson at safety. It seems clear that the Colts want their best four defensive backs on the field at the same time, and feel that Jackson is in that number (which is a nice affirmation of our ability to draft in and of itself, eh?). In the third round the Colts picked up Freddie Keiaho, an undersized but very speedy and hard-hitting outside linebacker from San Diego State. He will be given a chance to compete with Gilbert Gardner and others for the spot vacated by departed starter David Thornton. In the probable event that he needs some more time to get comfortable, though, he should at the very least be a great help on special teams. Incidentally, both Jennings and Keiaho were projected by most draft prognosticators to go a bit after the Colts took them. But this was clearly because both of them are small for their positions. Yes, Jennings is a little one as well, and so our trend of peopling our defense with folks who look like juiced members of the Lollipop Guild continues. But hey? we?ve seen it work out over and over. So I?m feeling alright about that.
With a go-to running back, defensive backfield depth and outside linebacker depth addressed, the Colts used their fourth and fifth round picks on Michael Toudouze and Charlie Johnson, a pair of offensive tackles from TCU and Oklahoma St., respectively.
Neither is likely to challenge for a starting spot this year, but both are reasonably athletic prospects that may see some time at both guard and tackle in training camp. They?ll provide some needed insurance on the front-line. While it is slightly disappointing from my perspective that the Colts were not able to grab an experienced guard a little higher, they clearly thought the value wasn?t there. Offensive Line Coach Howard Mudd has had great general success developing unknown mid-to-late round line prospects over the years, and hopefully that will continue. With the exception of the San Diego regular season and Pittsburgh playoff games last year, the line was outstanding. I guess we must go forward holding those out as anomalous ?off games?, rather than more legitimate exposures of real shortcomings in the composition of our personnel up-front.
The acquisitions of Howard safety Antoine Bethea in the sixth round and Stanford cornerback/return specialist T.J. Rushing in the seventh closed out the draft for the Colts. Bethea is considered a project ? a great athlete and huge hitter with the need for significant refinement in his cover skills. But, like Keiaho, he could immediately contribute as a difference-maker on special teams. And speaking of special teams, T. J. Rushing may prove one of the most interesting young Colts to watch through training camp and the pre-season. The team didn?t acquire the seventh round pick they used on him until very late in the game, but liked his talent so much they decided to make the move rather than risk losing him to another bidder on the free agent market at the draft?s conclusion. He is not expected to be a factor as a DB in the near future, but could very well end up being the Colts? primary kick and/or punt returner. Neither position has inspired much excitement for Indianapolis fans since Brad Pyatt?s promising rookie campaign in 2003. If Rushing comes as advertised, he may well rise quickly to the fore in the competition for return duty. In any case, it keeps us at zero sum for Stanford speedsters ? lose small, fast Troy Walters to free agency?add small, fast T.J. Rushing in the draft. Check.
The Colts acquired a total of 18 rookie free agents in the signing frenzy that immediately follows the draft. The only mildly eyebrow-raising of these pick-ups for non-family members of the players were quarterbacks David Koral of UCLA and Josh Betts of Miami (Ohio) (yeah, he was Big Ben?s successor there). Dungy says one of them has a legit chance of making the roster as a number three quarterback (a spot in Indianapolis that almost approaches the relevance of a biochemistry professor in the entourage of Paris Hilton), and I guess that?s great because it at least reminds us once again that we are no longer in need of a roster spot dedicated to a ?kickoff specialist? (enjoy Dallas, Vandy? the possibly-soon-to-be-coronated third QB sends his thanks).
All of these rookies, the drafted and undrafted alike, converged on the Union Federal Football Center the weekend of May 5 to officially begin their careers as Colts. They practiced in shorts and helmets, were given their first doses of the playbook, and the coaches took a self-professed non-judgmental, instructional stance during the weekend. In other words, there is absolutely nothing of real interest to report, other than the fact that no one was seriously injured. After an NFL-dictated rookie layoff period (so that players can go back to school and take their finals? you?ve got to at least admire the sentiment, if still laughing at it as you do so), the rooks were allowed to return to the team to begin the day-to-day offseason workout regimen with the vets. Next up is Mini-Camp, going on as I finish this article (May 19-21), at which they?re finally strapping on a helmet and working with the rest of the team on the field. And word is that Peyton Manning has already taken Joseph Addai aside for some extra help, which is a comforting image for any Colts fan. Keep those fingers crossed. I don?t know if it?s possible to move on from Edge without skipping a beat, but with any luck the beat we must skip will be over with quickly.
And once Mini-Camp?s over at the end of this weekend, it?s on to the Dog Days. Lots of interesting little subplots will brew in the offices, weight rooms, and locker rooms of Union Federal Football Center. But we won?t hear about them. We?ll just scrounge through those mags and websites, hoping to find that one piece of insight or fresh news that will render our football-less existence a little less painful. And we?ll continue to wait sort of patiently for that glorious dawn when the crack of the pads, the cheers of the crowd, and the soaring arc of the spiraling pigskin will return in a flourish to restore us to Colt Fan Nirvana.
Until then? Be Strong.