Colts find more questions than answers at camp

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The Indianapolis Colts came to Anderson to work.

They wound up doing more than just playing football, providing a big boost to a city in need of hope.

Estimates from city and university officials put the total attendance for Indy's 2 1/2-week training camp between 75,000 to 85,000, nearly double what was promised when the Colts announced in June they were coming back to Anderson University.

The city's biggest celebrity, former Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine, attended several practices. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made a guest appearance, too, and Mayor Kris Ockomon said early economic numbers indicated the Colts pumped about $6 million into the economy. Retail numbers, Ockomon said, were up, and some local hoteliers acknowledged they were routinely sold out while the Colts were in town.

Things couldn't have gone better for the city.

''It's been way more than we anticipated, and the national exposure we've gotten from this has been incredible'' Ockomon said as Wednesday's final practice was wrapping up. ''You can't buy that kind of advertising for the community.''

The Colts did their part, too.

Team owner Jim Irsay donated $5,000 to each of five local organizations, and Ockomon thanked the players for spending extra time signing autographs and mingling with fans - crediting those interactions with the large crowds that showed up routinely.

What did the Colts actually get accomplished on the field? Plenty.

Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis reported to camp on time, keeping Indy's usually non-controversial camp as vanilla as their white-on-white-on-white uniforms. First-round draft pick Jerry Hughes missed only one practice before signing his five-year contract.

Bob Sanders, the 2007 NFL defensive player of the year, and receiver Anthony Gonzalez proved they were healthy, and the Colts added a veteran to their young secondary by signing former Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend. Indy now has 13 defenders who have started in a Super Bowl.

But as the Colts flew to Toronto for their second preseason game Wednesday afternoon, they were still trying to answer some big questions - most notably who would protect four-time league MVP Peyton Manning on the battered offensive line.

The leader, Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, has already missed more than a week after having knee surgery. Saturday could be out up to five more weeks. Left tackle Charlie Johnson, Manning's blind-side protector, sprained his right foot on Aug. 6 and hasn't practiced since. Right guard Kyle DeVan has been out after hurting his hamstring in Sunday's preseason loss, and backup guard Jaimie Thomas had a walking boot covering his left foot Wednesday.

All the holes have taken a toll.

''Certainly the injury situation is present every single year, but there have been a number of guys that have missed the majority of this camp, which is tough to get timing with those guys,'' Manning said Tuesday. ''Some of these young guys, young lineman, and young tight ends got some work and you hope that pays off for you.''

Things are such a mess on the offensive line that Colts coach Jim Caldwell is still trying to sort it all out.

''Sometimes it depends on the health of your team,'' Caldwell said when asked how he would mix-and-match lineups for the Buffalo game. ''We don't plan anything unusual, let's just put it that way.''

The line isn't the only area getting hit.

Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark hasn't practiced since injuring his upper left leg late last week. Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney has been limited to one workout per day for precautionary reasons, linebacker Clint Session returned to practice Tuesday after recovering from a pectoral muscle injury and cornerback Jerraud Powers is expected to sit out against the Bills because of soreness in his left foot, the same foot he hurt before the Super Bowl.

''It was just a little sore after the game, so we did this as a precaution,'' Powers said.

The big question as the Colts leave is whether they'll be back next year?

Powers and other players said they were so impressed with the turnout and the productivity in Anderson that they'd like to come back. Indy signed a one-year contract, and Ockomon would like to extend the pact if the NFL owners and NFL Players Association can work out a new collective bargaining agreement to keep training camp part of next year's plans.

''We're working on that behind the scenes,'' Ockomon said. ''With the NFL talks ongoing, the Colts can't commit to anything ...

''But we're going to be ready for them if the NFL can work things out and the Colts do decide to come back.''

Tagged: Colts, Peyton Manning, Jerraud Powers

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