Colts finally get most veterans on practice field

All week, Joseph Addai stood to the side of his teammates and

caught footballs from a machine.

All week, the Colts starting running back lobbied his coaches to

do more. Coach Jim Caldwell couldn’t budge.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after the new labor pact was

ratified by the players, Addai and about a dozen of his teammates

finally made it onto the practice field for the first time since

training camp opened Sunday at Anderson University.

“I was just itching to get out and do a little something, and

Caldwell was always pushing me back,” Addai said. “I understand the

business side. I just wanted to get out there.”

Addai had good reason after enduring the longest, most tenuous

offseason of his six-year career.

With his contract expiring and the Colts’ reputation for not

re-signing running backs, Addai worried Indy wouldn’t take him

back. The longest work stoppage in league history even prevented

him from finding a job with another team. He spent the summer

working out at his alma mater, LSU, waiting for a settlement, and

when it finally came last week, Addai wasn’t exactly the hottest

name in the free-agent frenzy.

Turns out, the Colts wanted him all along.

Within hours of reaching a new five-year deal that lowered

Peyton Manning’s salary cap number from $23.1 million to $16

million, they used some of the savings to re-sign their best

blocking back to a three-year, $14 million deal.

The wait, however, wasn’t over.

The NFL’s unprecedented post-lockout rules prevented veteran

free agents from practicing until a new collective bargaining

agreement was ratified. Players voted Thursday, after the Colts had

finished practice, keeping Addai and the other Colts from getting

into pads until midafternoon Friday.

“They were constantly asking me questions about what can and

can’t I do,” Caldwell said. “Often times it was simply because of

the eagerness to get going. But some of them wanted to know if they

could get involved in this kind of activity, or could help the

coach do this, and in most cases we had to tell them no. “

Addai was one of the most active lobbyists, but far from the

only one.

Starting safety Melvin Bullitt, the longtime replacement for the

oft-injured Bob Sanders, hadn’t been in pads since a right shoulder

injury ended his season in early October.

“When they told us we couldn’t practice until Friday, at first,

you got a little smile, then after the first 20 minutes you’re

like, ‘Man, this is boring just being out here watching,'” Bullitt

said. “I guess that’s just the competitive nature a lot of guys

have.”

The biggest name missing: Manning, who remains on the physically

unable to perform list after undergoing neck surgery in May.

Caldwell has not provided a timetable for Manning’s return, though

owner Jim Irsay told reporters Wednesday night that Manning was

progressing.

Manning is a known quantity to the Colts.

Indy’s newcomers are not.

Since Monday, the Colts have signed three former first-round

picks – defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson, linebacker Ernie Sims

and defensive tackle Tommie Harris.

The biggest question in the group is Harris’ health. After three

Pro Bowl seasons with the Bears, Harris endured three

injury-plagued seasons and his production declined. He spent his

entire career with the Bears in the same defensive system the Colts

use, and now Harris wants to show he can still be a disruptive

force in the middle.

“It never was my knees though I don’t want to say what it was,

but it’s all good now,” he said. “I want to go out and prove it,

and what better way to do it than with Peyton Manning and Dwight

Freeney. There was no doubt in my mind this is where I wanted to

play.”

Sims and Anderson also have something to prove.

Sims is returning to the defensive style that allowed him to

post three straight 100-tackle seasons in Detroit. In different

defenses with the Lions and Eagles the past two seasons, Sims had a

combined total of 104.

The 25-year-old Anderson, taken No. 8 overall in 2007, never met

Atlanta’s expectations as an elite pass rusher, though he did

develop into a solid run stopper.

They all practiced for the first time Friday along with right

tackle Ryan Diem, left guard Kyle DeVan, defensive tackle Antonio

Johnson and kicker Adam Vinatieri.

But for Addai, getting back to football was a refreshing twist,

and there was nothing better than hearing the fans roar after a

long run toward the end of practice.

“I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time,” he

said. “I remember two or three weeks ago, I was unemployed, so I’m

blessed to be back here.”

A handful of Colts got nicked up in the afternoon. Pro Bowl

tight end Dallas Clark needed his ankle retaped before returning to

practice. Linebacker Kavell Conner, who is expected to vie with

Sims for the starting job at weak side linebacker, left early with

an apparent injury to his right hand. Defensive back Chris Rucker,

a sixth-round draft pick, missed practice with a walking boot

covering his left foot.