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Colts open minicamp practice, stadium to Indy fans

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts added a new feature to minicamp practice Saturday — fans.

Players and coaches boarded busses, made the short trip from the team complex on the city's west side to their downtown stadium where several thousand welcomed the defending AFC champions.

It was the perfect remedy for what might have gone down as just another mundane workout.

"When you're in the stadium, you up the ante a little bit with the energy level," Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark said before practice. "You give them (fans) a chance to see what our practices are like, from a coaching aspect and the drills that we do. It's a great opportunity for them to come out and see us, and it's a great opportunity for us to get better."

Fans couldn't wait to get in.

Gates opened at 10 a.m., and thousands were already in their seats when the Colts arrived for the scheduled 1-hour, 50-minute practice. While it was far from a full house, there were long lines for autographs and hundreds of jerseys.

It was the first time the Colts had been inside Lucas Oil Stadium since January's AFC title game, and the Colts started with a moment of silence to honor Indiana native John Wooden, who died Friday night in Los Angeles. They brought in Josh Moore to sing the national anthem and handed out posters.

Many came for a glimpse at their favorite players: four-time league MVP Peyton Manning, 2007 NFL defensive player of the year Bob Sanders, four-time Pro Bowler Jeff Saturday and Clark.

"I think it's great because a lot of people can't go out to see us at training camp, but they can come out to the stadium and watch us," left tackle Charlie Johnson said.

Not everyone showed up.

Three Pro Bowlers — safety Antoine Bethea, defensive end Robert Mathis and receiver Reggie Wayne — missed a second straight day of the team's mandatory weekend camp.

Bethea, at least, has a reason. He can't participate until signing the Colts' one-year tender of $2.521 million.

Mathis and Wayne, however, skipped it because they're trying to negotiate new contracts. Both players have two years remaining on the deals they signed in 2006, and Wayne has issued a statement saying he'd like to finish his career with the Colts. Mathis was in Indy and Thursday for a charity softball game but never made it to practice and declined to comment.

Before leaving the team office, Colts president Bill Polian said through a team spokesman that the Colts have had conversations with agents for Mathis and Wayne and that they're aware the team can't do much until a new labor deal is in place.

Some fans understood.

"I wish they could all be together regardless of what's going on with the contract and, hopefully, it will work itself out," said 47-year-old Bob Murray, who wore Wayne's No. 87 jersey to practice. "It's just doing business, and as hard these guys work, they need to get every penny they can."

The three holdouts weren't the only ones sitting out Saturday.

Former NFL sacks champion Dwight Freeney and Anthony Gonzalez, Indy's 2007 first-round pick, dressed for Saturday's workout and signed autographs but did not participate in the workouts. Both are recovering from injuries. Also out was Donald Brown, last year's first-round pick, and rookie defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews, who wore a boot on the left ankle he hurt in Friday's practice. Mathews was a seventh-round pick in April's draft.

The Colts did not make coach Jim Caldwell available to reporters Saturday to discuss the injury.

He's the second draft pick to get hurt in less than a month. Cornerback Kevin Thomas, a third-round pick, recently had surgery on his right knee. Thomas is expected to miss the entire season.

But the Colts were more concerned with getting something out of Saturday's workout — and putting on a good show for the fans — than they were about who was missing.

"It's the first time in front of our crowd since the AFC championship game, and I'm sure a lot of people can't wait for football season," defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "I can't wait. It's going to be very exciting."