Manning, Sanders healthy as Colts open mini-camp

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Peyton Manning could be an even bigger pain in the neck for NFL defenses this season, now that he's finally healthy.

"I'm out here throwing and I'll no longer have to get the treatment that I've been getting for the last four years. It's a great relief," Manning said Friday.

Manning had surgery in March to fix a pinched nerve in his neck. Before that, he had 25-minute treatments as many as three times a day for four seasons.

The injury certainly didn't slow him down much.

During those four years, Manning won two of his four league MVP awards, made four playoff appearances, won one Super Bowl, lost another and helped the Indianapolis Colts start 14-0 last season.

And now he's full strength.

"I feel good," Manning said. "All my symptoms and issues that I've been dealing with for the last four years have subsided."

Manning wasn't the only Colts starter feeling better on the first day of Indy's three-day mandatory mini-camp.

Bob Sanders, the 2007 NFL defensive player of the year, has been making appearances on the practice field over the past several weeks — a scene he hopes will become more regular this season.

The two-time Pro Bowl safety has played in just eight games the past two seasons and during the last three years has became almost a permanent spectator during offseason team activities, training camp and regular-season practices.

"It's fun to get out there and compete and enjoy the weather," Sanders said. "This is the first time I've been able to do OTAs in years. I've always been rehabbing a lot and spending a lot of time in the training room. It feels great to not to go into the training room and going into the weight room."

Perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney is also getting healthy as he rehabs the torn ligament in his right ankle. Freeney did not undergo surgery and has not yet practiced, though he hopes to be on the field at the start of training camp.

The other big issue at mini-camp was holdouts.

Three Pro Bowlers — safety Antoine Bethea, defensive end Robert Mathis and receiver Reggie Wayne — skipped Friday's workout and do not plan to participate in practice Saturday or Sunday, either.

Bethea still has not accepted the team's $2.521 million one-year tender and cannot participate until he signs.

Mathis and Wayne both want to renegotiate their deals with two years left on their contracts. Wayne issued a statement through his agent, Joby Branion, saying he would continue to work out in Florida as he usually does. But veteran holdouts have been rare during Bill Polian's tenure in Indy.

"I have tremendous respect for (owner) Jim Irsay, (president) Bill Polian and the entire Indianapolis Colts organization, but at this time, we are in disagreement concerning my contract situation," Wayne said. "Therefore, I will not be attending this week's mini-camp.

"I hope that a fair resolution can be reached in the not-too-distant future that allows me to achieve my goal of playing my entire career with the Colts."

Mathis arrived in town Wednesday and played in a charity softball game the next night. He refused to discuss his contract situation and wouldn't even say then if he planned to show up for Friday's workout.

He didn't.

The Colts didn't seem to care about the absences.

"We have to find a way to get better, that's our goal, that's my job," coach Jim Caldwell said. "My job is to get ourselves into the best position to win. I had an old motto when I was a young coach and that is that coaching shows up."

Manning, like other veterans, wants all the contract stuff resolved before the Colts report to training camp Aug. 1.

That way, the Colts can rely on a healthier Manning to make life miserable for everyone else in the league.

"You've still got to go out there and do it," Manning said. "I'm excited about the potential for this team and hopefully we can put it to good use."