The Colts want Adam Vinatieri at full strength later this season, one to two months from now. Until then, they're content using another veteran kicker, Matt Stover.
Indianapolis signed Stover on Wednesday, one day after Vinatieri had arthroscopic surgery to remove a piece of cartilage in his right knee. To clear a roster spot, the Colts made a surprise move by waiving starting defensive tackle Ed Johnson.
"Last week, Adam felt his knee was giving him a little bit of a problem, so he had an MRI," coach Jim Caldwell said. "They saw some loose cartilage in there and we felt we wanted to get that done now with the bye week. In doing that, we had to look for someone to take his spot and we found Matt Stover."
Losing Vinatieri, the league's best clutch kicker, for four to eight weeks is one thing. He missed training camp after having surgery on his right hip and right knee this summer and though Vinatieri was still hurting last weekend, he managed to make a short field goal in the fourth quarter of Sunday night's 31-9 rout over Tennessee.
Cutting Johnson is an entirely different matter.
He has now been released twice in the past 13 months by the Colts, the first coming in September 2008 after Johnson was arrested on a drug possession charge. He re-signed with the Colts in May as the team tried to beef up its undersized defensive line, and the 6-foot-2, 296-pound third-year player won back his starting job in camp.
The difference from last season is staggering. A year ago, Indy finished among the bottom third of the league against the run. This year, the Colts are No. 14.
But after Wednesday's practice, Caldwell ended speculation that Johnson, who also had a checkered career at Penn State, had run into more problems off the field. Instead, Caldwell said, Johnson was not performing well enough to keep the job.
"I know some might be wondering if it was a character issue and it was not," Caldwell said. "When we get to these types of situations, we have to look at our roster and see where we can get a guy on (the roster). Ed's was a matter of production."
Johnson had started four straight games after serving a one-game suspension in Week 1 because of his arrest, and had nine tackles.
The two moves are the latest obstacles Indy faces.
The Colts are 5-0 for the fourth time in five years despite having a new head coach, a new defensive coordinator, a new special teams coach and no Marvin Harrison. Bob Sanders, the 2007 NFL defensive player of the year, still has not played and other injuries forced the Colts into starting two rookie cornerbacks at Tennessee.
Even the durable Peyton Manning gave fans a scare, saying he needed postgame treatment on his left knee Sunday night. The MVP quarterback went through a full practice Wednesday and said the knee was fine.
Vinatieri's knee, apparently, was not.
Stover, a 12th-round draft pick of the New York Giants in 1990, played with Cleveland from 1991-95 then moved with the team to Baltimore in 1996, where he spent the next 13 seasons.
He handled every important field goal attempt for the Ravens from 1996 through 2008, but after losing distance on his kickoffs and long field goal tries, Baltimore signed Steve Hauschka last season. The Ravens did not renew Stover's contract during the offseason.
Stover worked out for Indy on Tuesday and signed Wednesday morning.
"That Adam would continue to kick with his knee in that condition, it tells you what kind of guy he is," Stover said. "What I pride myself on is getting out there and making all of my field goals."
To replace Johnson, the Colts are likely to give Daniel Muir and Fili Moala more playing time. Muir has been a regular in the defensive line rotation and Moala, a second-round pick from Southern Cal, is confident he can make an impact now that he has a better understanding of Indy's defense.
Other options include using defensive ends Raheem Brock, Keyunta Dawson and Eric Foster inside. All three have starting experience at tackle.
"It won't change as much for me, we just have to work hard and hope to get guys to step up," said the other starting tackle, Antonio Johnson. "We've got to keep doing what we're doing."
Without missing either Vinatieri or Ed Johnson.