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Monday, May 22, 2006

LSU / Colts RB Joseph Addai Making Progress In Mini-Camp - Vets Say All He Has to Do Is Listen

Addai Must Watch, Study and Learn, Veterans Say
INDIANAPOLIS – The first days have made an impression on Joseph Addai.
Asked this week to describe his first NFL mini-camp, the Colts’ rookie running back said there were three things that stood out.

1) The NFL is faster, he said.

2) Coaches expect more from you than in college.

3) You can’t make the same mistake twice.

Beyond that, the player the Colts made the No. 30 overall selection in last month’s 2006 NFL Draft said he hasn’t changed his approach much in the last two weeks.

That means he’s still not trying to replace Edgerrin James.

“I don’t look at it like I have to stretch myself,” Addai said during the Colts’ 2006 mini-camp, which concluded Sunday at the Union Federal Football Center. “I’m going to go out there and just do what I have to do.”

That’s good news to the rest of the Colts’ offense, members of which said this week it was far too early to comment extensively on what Addai’s potential impact on the unit this season.

What they did say this week was Addai – who played collegiately at Louisiana State University – appears to have the ability to be the Colts’ feature back sometime in the future. And mostly they said this:

His approach is just right.

He doesn’t need to replace James, the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, immediately, and he doesn’t need to worry about earning a starting position.

He needs to study. He needs to learn.

And mostly, he needs to get ready.

“The best thing for him to do is get a feel for how things are going and try to take as many notes as possible, so that at least mentally he can try to stay on top of what he can,” said Colts two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tarik Glenn.

Addai, who rushed for 2,576 yards and 18 touchdowns at LSU, is expected to be part of a running-back-by-committee system next season with veterans Dominic Rhodes and James Mungro. Rhodes, Dungy said, is expected to open training camp as the starter.

Addai said this week he doesn’t view Rhodes, who rushed for 1,104 yards as a rookie in 2001, as competition.

“I don’t look at it like that,” Addai said Friday. “Earlier today he was helping me on some stuff. Everybody wants to be that person (the starter), but at the same time, we’re just helping the whole team out.”

Glenn, like several other Colts’ linemen, said the Colts’ offense is so complex it is unfair to expect a rookie to grasp it immediately. Addai, Glenn said, was drafted for a reason, something he said the rookie will have to remember in the coming months.

“The bottom line is coming into this offense, you’ve got a lot to retain,” said Glenn, a 10-year veteran who played in the last two Pro Bowls. “The best thing you can do is, on the plays you do know what to do, do them to the best of your ability. Be yourself. Don’t try to live up to anyone. Don’t try to live up to Edge. Just be Joseph. Come in and contribute.

“He has to trust that (Colts Head Coach) Tony (Dungy) and Mr. (Colts President Bill) Polian brought him in there because they felt he will eventually be our feature back.

“If he takes that approach, he’ll be a good player.”

When Glenn spoke of Addai this week, he spoke with a calmness shared by many on the Colts’ offense in recent weeks. Although James – who signed as a free agent after last season with the Arizona Cardinals – made four Pro Bowls in his seven seasons with the team, and although he was respected by teammates, Colts offensive players said this week there’s little reason his absence should mean a drop-off in the offense.

That, tight end Dallas Clark said, stems from a confidence not only in Addai, Rhodes and Mungro, but in the entire offense.

“The mentality we have had from Day One is we can’t just say, ‘Well, we lost him, so we’re done,’’’ Clark said of James. “Everybody’s mature enough to realize that things are going to be a little different, but to throw in the towel or say we’re not going to be as good I think is unfair to the other 10 guys.

“Edge was a great back and he’s going to do great down in Arizona, but we’re going to move on and change what we have to do to replace him. The other running backs are super excited, and they’re going to do a great job when they get the chance.”

What separated James from NFL backs, Colts linemen said this week, was his consistency. While James rarely broke long runs, he also rarely was tackled for losses.

James, in seven seasons with the Colts, averaged 1,318 yards a season – including the 2001 season when he missed 10 games with a knee injury and the following season, when James rushed for 989 yards while recovering from the injury. He averaged 96 yards rushing a game, and last season, he rushed for at least 89 yards in each of the first 13 games.

“Edgerrin was a consistent player and we knew what we were going to get every time we gave him the ball,” Colts right tackle Diem said. “He was going to run hard, and give us consistency.”

For Addai, Diem said, “Learning what we do will be a big factor. If he can learn to hit the holes in the right spot and be consistent about that, not try to change things up and do things his way, I think we’ll be very successful.”

Diem said he’s confident that will happen, not only because he believes Rhodes and Addai are capable, but because he believes the offensive line capable of making them productive.

“All the guys we have are hard runners,” Diem said. “We’re confident in ourselves that we will get the job done and make holes for them.

“They’ll make us look good and we’ll make them look good. It works both ways.”

Glenn said although James was key to the offense, he’s far from the first key player the Colts have lost in recent seasons. Tight end Marcus Pollard left after the 2004 season, as did guard Rick DeMulling. On defense, the Colts have lost linebackers Mike Peterson, Marcus Robinson and David Thornton as free agents in recent seasons.

“We’ve experienced that in a lot of different areas,” Glenn said. “Even though Edge was a focal point of our offense, we have to learn we’re playing within a salary cap and trust Mr. Polian and Coach Dungy are going to bring in the personnel to help us win and help us be successful.

“We’re all confident of that and we know Joseph and Dominic are going to be able to continue and do the job well enough where it gives our offense a chance to win games.”

For Rhodes, that process began five years ago, and next season, he will get his first chance since 2001 to play in a backfield that didn’t include James. For Addai, the process began this weekend, and his teammates said although it’s far too early to judge how he will play next season, the early signs that his approach is right.

And for now, considering his circumstances, they said that’s all you can ask.

“He has to show eagerness to learn and you just have to really be patient,” Clark said. “It’s a tough offense, and a tough position to learn, especially when Edgerrin played before you and kind of set the bar pretty darn high. He just has to understand he’s not going to learn it overnight. If he makes a mistake, he just has to try to not make the same mistake twice. He has to realize he can’t get in the dumps, he can’t get upset with himself, or mad or discouraged.

“He just has to stay positive, remember it next time and not make the same mistakes. So long as he does those things, he’ll be alright.”


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