DAVIE, Fla. — With NFL Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning looking particularly sharp and hobbled defensive end Dwight Freeney unavailable, the AFC champion Indianapolis Colts opened their practice week for Super Bowl XLIV late Wednesday afternoon with a 1-hour, 48-minute workout at the Miami Dolphins training complex.
The Colts worked without pads — coach Jim Caldwell said the team practiced in pads only once last week, and would be in shorts and helmets for all four practices this week—under partly cloudy skies on a beautiful afternoon in south Florida. The temperature at the start of practice was 75 degrees, with 65 percent humidity a slight breeze from the northeast.
"Our Wednesday practices have been pretty sharp this year," said Caldwell, the rookie head coach, "and this one was right in line with that. It went well out there. The guys got acclimated well and got some good work in."
Freeney, nursing an ankle injury that has his status in doubt for Sunday's game against New Orleans, was nowhere to be found at practice, continuing the rehabilitation of his grade-three ankle sprain. Also missing was starting cornerback Jerraud Powers, who missed the AFC Championship Game with a foot injury.
Caldwell said he has underestimated Freeney's healing ability several times while with the Colts and couldn't make a prediction about his readiness for Sunday. Of Powers, the rookie cornerback from Auburn, Caldwell said: "Not certain yet. But I can tell you this: He is moving in the right direction [in his rehabilitation]."
The Colts listed 19 players on their first injury report of the week, but other than Freeney and Powers, all the rest participated fully in Wednesday's practice. Clearly, the only players in doubt for Sunday's game are Powers and Freeney.
Manning, who won his NFL-record fourth MVP earlier this month, led a crisp and effective nickel-offense passing period midway through practice. He completed nine of nine passes against defenders playing New Orleans' scout-team nickel, including a beautifully thrown deep ball for a touchdown to backup tight end Jacob Tamme. He also hit Reggie Wayne earlier in practice in stride on another deep ball.
Caldwell said virtually all of the Colts game plan was installed last week in Indianapolis, as if the game were to be played last Sunday instead of this Sunday. That's one of the reasons he said he didn't feel it was important to be in pads this week. "We've played 22 games this year," he said, counting preseason, regular-season and playoffs. "I want them to be nice and hungry come Sunday. If they need pads this time of year ..." His voice trailed off, but the implication was clear — he feels nothing more can be accomplished by players hitting each for a day or two this week after six full months of an NFL season.
Visitors to practice included members of the CBS pregame crew (Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason, Shannon Sharpe, Charley Casserly and Steve Tasker) and the announcing team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms).
The Colts will resume preparations late Thursday afternoon with their second practice of the week at the Dolphins facility. — Peter King
DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN PRACTICE:
DE Dwight Freeney (ankle), CB Jerraud Powers (foot).
FULL PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE:
RB Joseph Addai (shoulder), CB Antoine Bethea (back), LB Gary Brackett (knee), RB Donald Brown (foot), CB Melvin Bullitt (knee), T Ryan Diem (knee), CB Aaron Francisco (hand), RB Mike Hart (ankle), DT Antonio Johnson (shoulder), T Charlie Johnson (foot), DE Robert Mathis (shoulder), G Jamey Richard (shoulder), K Matt Stover (left calf), TE Jacob Tamme (ankle), T Tony Ugoh (knee), K Adam Vinatieri (right hip), WR Reggie Wayne (knee).
New Orleans Saints:
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — The Saints practiced for almost 2 1/2 hours today at the U. of Miami's football fields under ideal conditions and head coach Sean Payton said he was very pleased with the work.
"I think we're ahead of schedule with just about everything we're trying to get done," said Payton, a first-time Super Bowl head coach. "Even the buses and everything are running on time or ahead of schedule."
The Saints worked on mostly base first-down and second-down situations on Wednesday. Payton, who wore a Hurricane visor and coaching shirt instead of his standard New Orleans' garb, said that he still has some offensive and defensive installation work to do, but that "two-thirds of it" was done last week in New Orleans.
Those unfamiliar with how the Saints' approach a practice would be interested to know that Payton conducts a 30-minute walk-through with every unit from special teams to specialized offensive formations before the team participates in stretching exercises. The team even worked for more than five minutes on turnover drills, something you generally witness in training camp.
"Well, we do that a lot during the season, too," Payton said. "But I'd like us to have a little of that training-camp mentality here. We even brought in the cool pools for the guys just in case."
All of the injured Saints, with the exception of running back Lynell Hamilton, who watched with a walking boot protecting his left ankle, participated fully in all team drills, although some on a limited basis. Tight end Jeremy Shockey (knee), safety Darren Sharper (knee) and linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) seemingly worked in every drill and all three looked good. Injured cornerback Randall Gay (foot) was running so well that he intercepted two passes against the scout team.
At the conclusion of practice, quarterback Drew Brees and four of his receivers stayed on the field to fine-tune a few specific routes for an extra 10 minutes. — John Czarnecki
DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN PRACTICE:
RB Lynell Hamilton (ankle).
LIMITED PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE:
CB Randall Gay (foot), CB Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring), DE Bobby McCray (back, ankle), S Pierson Prioleau (quadricep), WR Courtney Roby (knee), S Darren Sharper (knee), TE Jeremy Shockey (knee), DE Will Smith (groin), T Zach Strief (shoulder), LB Jonathan Vilma (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE:
T Jermon Bushrod (thumb), LB Jonathan Casillas (ankle), TE Darnell Dinkins (foot), G Jahri Evans (foot), LB Scott Fujita (knee), CB Jabari Greer (groin), WR Robert Meachem (ankle), WR Lance Moore (ankle), CB Tracy Porter (knee).
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