Published August 31, 2011
| Sports Network
It was the most innocuous of headlines: "Colts activate word phrase in the NFL.
Though he's a four-time league MVP, 11-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl champion and sure-fire Hall of Famer, the now 35-year-old Manning has been just another veteran player trying to come back from a potentially career-threatening injury this summer.
And though it's no lock that he'll continue a streak of 208 consecutive starts come the Indianapolis' Colts Sept. 11 regular-season opener in Houston, the idea that Manning's no longer remanded to the MASH unit known as the physically unable to perform list is at least a mental salve to the franchise's coaches, players and ticket-buying fans.
The Colts were facing an imminent deadline to make the move or Manning would have missed their first six games. Team officials issued a statement that said he would practice on a "scripted and controlled" basis, with head coach Jim Caldwell declining to further elaborate.
And as for Manning himself, a patient for two neck procedures since Indianapolis was defeated by the New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV nearly two years ago, he's maintained a "right on schedule" mindset.
"This was one of my goals all along, to get back during the week of this last preseason game," he said. "This would give you two weeks of on-the-field work, and it can give you a pretty good answer to some questions that coach Caldwell has and that I have."
Just in case the legendary quarterback has any hiccups before or after the opener with the Texans, the Colts lured veteran Kerry Collins out of retirement with a two-year, $14 million deal to become a more dependable security blanket than holdover backup Curtis Painter.
Painter has thrown 28 passes and completed exactly eight in two in-game appearances since Indianapolis made him a sixth-round selection out of Purdue in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Collins, meanwhile, has made double-digit starts in 12 of 16 seasons, made two Pro Bowls and played in a Super Bowl since he exited Penn State as the fifth overall pick in 1995, when Painter was 9 years old.
"Hopefully Peyton will be back, but if he's not maybe I can be one of the guys that can help this ball club," Collins said. "The biggest draw for me coming here was just being with a team that I have a lot of respect for and a lot of history with, and really to be with a great team and play with one of greatest quarterbacks of all time."
Below we take a capsule look at the 2011 edition of the Indianapolis Colts, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2009 RECORD: 10-6 (1st, AFC South)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to N.Y. Jets in AFC Wild Card
COACH (RECORD): Jim Caldwell (24-8 in two seasons)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Clyde Christensen (second season)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Larry Coyer (second season with Colts)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Peyton Manning, QB (4700 passing yards, 33 TD, 17 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Dwight Freeney, DE (25 tackles, 10 sacks, 5 FF)
2010 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 4th overall (29th rushing, 1st passing), 4th scoring (27.2 ppg)
2010 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 20th overall (25th rushing, 13th passing), 23rd scoring (24.3 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: OT Anthony Castonzo (1st Round, Boston College), QB Kerry Collins (from Titans), QB Dan Orlovsky (from Texans), RB Delone Carter (4th Round, Syracuse), DE Jamaal Anderson (from Falcons), DE Tyler Brayton (from Panthers), DT Tommie Harris (from Bears), OLB Ernie Sims (from Eagles), S Michael Hamlin (from Jaguars)
KEY DEPARTURES: OT Charlie Johnson (to Vikings), DT Daniel Muir (to Rams), OLB Clint Session (to Jaguars), CB Kelvin Hayden (released), S Bob Sanders (to Chargers), RB Dominic Rhodes (not tendered), RB Mike Hart (not tendered), RB Devin Moore (released), TE Gijon Robinson (to Lions), DE Keyunta Dawson (to Lions), OLB Tyjuan Hagler (not tendered), S Aaron Francisco (to Lions), S Ken Hamlin (not tendered)
QB: Simply put, the statistical case for Manning's (4700 passing yards, 33 TD, 17 INT in 2010) greatness is staggering. He started 16 games for a 13th consecutive season in 2010 and earned a ninth consecutive Pro Bowl selection, second in franchise history to Gino Marchetti's 11. Manning became the league���s first four-time MVP in 2009 and has completed more passes (4,682) and thrown for more yards (54,828) and touchdowns (399) in a career-opening 13-year span than any NFL player. He���s third all-time in career completions, yards and touchdowns, behind only Brett Favre and Dan Marino, and trails just Favre, John Elway and Marino in wins as a starter. His 138 victories since 1999 are first in the league over that span, ahead of contemporaries Favre, Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb. In 2010, Manning completed 450-of-679 passes (66.2 percent) for a career-best 4,700 yards and 33 touchdowns with 17 interceptions and a 91.9 quarterback rating. In his fifth season with the Tennessee Titans, Collins was 160-for-278 (57.6 percent) for 1,823 yards, 14 TDs and eight interceptions in 2010. The 38-year-old owns an 81-96 record in 177 career starts with Tennessee, Oakland, the New York Giants, New Orleans and Carolina.
RB: Joseph Addai signed a three-year, $14 million deal to stay with the Colts over the summer following five seasons in which he's averaged 4.1 yards per rush on 977 attempts and scored 38 touchdowns. Injuries limited him to just eight games and a career-low 495 yards on the ground in 2010, though he added 19 receptions for another 124 yards. Addai's 13 carries for 60 yards against the Jets in last January's AFC Playoffs pushed him past Edgerrin James as the franchise's all-time leader in postseason attempts and rushing yards. Former first-round pick Donald Brown stepped in during Addai's absence with 497 rushing yards and 20 catches, including a 129-yard effort on 14 carries that included a 43-yard touchdown against Jacksonville in December. The Colts selected 225-pounder Delone Carter in the fourth round of April's draft after he eclipsed 3,000 yards and scored 24 touchdowns in 42 games at Syracuse.
WR/TE: Veteran Reggie Wayne is back for an 11th season in Indianapolis after recording a career-high 111 catches last season, though he had just one pass thrown to him in the playoff loss to New York. Wayne's 1,355 receiving yards were another career high, and he scored six times to get to 69 touchdown catches since debuting in 2001. Tight end Dallas Clark (37 receptions, 3 TD) and wideout Austin Collie (58 receptions, 8 TD) sustained season-ending injuries after playing only six and nine games, respectively, but shining in their absence was fourth-year man Pierre Garcon. The wide receiver out of tiny Mount Union College caught 67 passes for 784 yards and had six scores in 2010. Largely sidelined the last two seasons (three games, five catches), former first-round pick Anthony Gonzalez is also on hand with a chance to replicate his 57-catch, 664-yard effort of 2008.
OL: Keeping Manning off the grass is the job of the returning members of a 2010 unit that saw him decked just 16 times last season, tied for fewest in the league. Thirteen-year veteran Jeff Saturday was named to his fifth Pro Bowl at year's end and is back at center, surrounded by guards Joe Reitz and Ryan Diem, who will kick inside this year after spending most of his career at right tackle. Reitz is a former member of the practice squad who's emerged as the front-runner at left guard in the preseason. Holdover Jeff Linkenbach is slated to step into Diem's old spot, while 2011 first-round pick Anthony Castonzo has been immediately installed as the protector for Manning's blind side at left tackle. In the mix for reserve roles are Mike Pollak, a 13-game starter at right guard a year ago, one-time regular left guard Kyle DeVan, center Jamey Richard, second-year guard Jacques McClendon and rookie tackle Ben Ijalana, a second-round choice in this past draft.
DL: Returning bookends Dwight Freeney (25 tackles, 10 sacks) and Robert Mathis (60 tackles, 11 sacks) combined for 21 sacks and were each named to the Pro Bowl last season, giving the Colts an elite presence outside. Clogging the interior will be the task of a grab bag of players, including third-round draft pick Drake Nevis (LSU), third-year pro Fili Moala, Antonio Johnson and free- agent acquisition Tommie Harris (13 tackles, 1.5 sacks), a former All-Pro with the Chicago Bears. Moala had 26 tackles in 16 starts last season, while Johnson, in his third season, made 26 tackles and recorded a half-sack in 14 games. Harris, entering his eighth year, has registered 28 sacks and 213 tackles in 104 games. He had a career-high eight sacks in 2007, but has since seen that total dwindle to five in 2008 and a combined four over the past two seasons. Fourth-year man Eric Foster (33 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Jerry Hughes, the Colts' 2010 first-round pick, provide depth.
LB: Free-agent signee Ernie Sims, a former starter with the Detroit Lions (2006-09) and Philadelphia Eagles (2010), comes to the Colts this season to compete for an outside job after making 55 tackles in 15 starts with the Eagles. He had three straight seasons of 100-plus tackles with the Lions, peaking at 134 in his second season in 2007. Manning the middle once again for Indianapolis is steady vet Gary Brackett, who's also reached triple-digit tackles three times and ended with 72 stops and a half-sack in 2010. Brackett also has 11 interceptions in eight seasons -- all with the Colts -- including one returned for a touchdown in his rookie year of 2003. Second-year men Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner are penciled in as starters on the outside, where they'll help offset the free-agent loss of Clint Session to Jacksonville. Conner had 57 tackles in 12 games as a rookie, while Angerer made 88 stops in 16 appearances. Backups include Philip Wheeler (52 tackles) and Nate Triplett.
DB: Gone is former impact safety but recurring injury concern Bob Sanders, who signed with the San Diego Chargers before the lockout. Into his big-play role steps Melvin Bullitt (13 tackles, 1 INT), a fifth-year man who had recorded two straight seasons of 70-plus tackles before he was shelved for all but four games in 2010 with an injured shoulder. At the other safety, Antoine Bethea is a sixth-year pro who had 106 tackles, a half-sack, an interception and a forced fumble in 16 starts last year, the third straight season in which he'd played every game. Third-year men Jerraud Powers (53 tackles, 2 INT) and Jacob Lacey (61 tackles 1 INT) are the initial depth chart toppers at cornerback, but Arizona State alum Justin Tryon begins his second season with the Colts with a chance to start or play in nickel packages after making 44 tackles, seven passes defended and a fumble recovery in 2010. Kevin Thomas, a second-year draft choice, is also in the mix.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Super-clutch Adam Vinatieri was his vintage self in NFL season No. 15, making 26-of-28 field goals and all 51 extra-point tries for 129 points in 2010, the second-highest point total of his career and fourth-best in Colts history. His 92.9 percent rate on field goals was first in the league among kickers with 20 or more attempts. Third-year punter Pat McAfee returns in his role after averaging 42 yards over 65 kicks, including 21 downed inside the 20- yard line. Last year's return specialist, Devin Moore, was released two days before the final preseason game, leaving reserve defensive back Terrence Johnson with the first crack at the jobs. Johnson was a practice-squad signee in December and joined the roster in January.
PROGNOSIS: As it's been each year since 1988, as Manning goes, so go the Colts. If his neck heals well enough for him to perform fully, Indianapolis is an AFC South favorite. If Collins plays anything more than a few series in relief, the prospects change dramatically. An opening-week trip to Houston gets the race going immediately, followed by home dates with Cleveland and Pittsburgh and a visit to NFC dark horse Tampa Bay. Kansas City visits Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 5, before a three-week voyage to Cincinnati, New Orleans and Tennessee that'll help define things. Atlanta and Jacksonville come to Indiana before a mid- November bye week, followed by a homestretch with Carolina, New England, Baltimore, Tennessee, Houston and Jacksonville. Put it all together and expect the requisite 10 wins for the Colts and at least some postseason chatter about a second Super Bowl.