|By John Oehser - Colts.com|
Manning Enjoying Working with Young Players in Summer School
INDIANAPOLIS - The sun shone, footballs flew. On the Colts' two practice fields, players worked in shorts and shirts.
This is the off-season – to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, an important time.
A time for learning.
A time for tweaking.
A time for getting to know young teammates.
And most importantly, a time for continuing to get better.
“It feels good,” Manning said Thursday morning after a summer-school session at the team’s practice facility.
“It’s always good to get with these young guys. It keeps the older guys like (wide receivers) Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne) working hard. I always like this time of year. You’ve got a lot of young players who love football and are kind of wide-eyed and have big smiles on their faces. It’s a fun time. . . .
“Our off-season work has been good. We’ll finish up next week and head into training camp from there, but it has been a good off-season so far.
And for Manning, it’s a time to be used wisely.
That’s why the two-time National Football League Most Valuable Player – the Super Bowl MVP this past season – has spent extra time this off-season working with several young players who may be critical to the offense next season.
Two of the players are rookie wide receivers – Anthony Gonzalez and Roy Hall.
Gonzalez, the Colts’ first-round selection in this past April’s NFL Draft, is expected to take former receiver Brandon Stokley’s slot receiver position in the offense while Hall (6-feet-3, 240 pounds) – a fifth-round selection – has rare size for an NFL receiver.
Both are exciting players, Manning said.
And he said both could contribute. And soon.
“Obviously, you kind of know what you’re going to get from Gonzalez,” Manning said. “He made a lot of plays in college. You’ve seen him. Roy Hall is probably one of the biggest targets I’ve had at receiver. He didn’t play a lot in college, but there’s a lot of growth potential there. It’s exciting to see how these guys can get better.”
Manning said he has watched film with Gonzalez to show the rookie how Stokley approached the offense.
“Obviously, the coaches are doing the main teaching, but there are a lot of little intricacies of our offense about a certain route and a certain adjustment,” Manning said. “This is the time to do it, because when training camp gets here, the heads really start spinning.
“This is what we call our teaching time. I do think it’s important to spend some time with the young guys one on one and try to give them the ins and outs of the offense.”
Such an approach is hardly new to Manning, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said, and it’s not limited to new receivers, either.
“Peyton likes new people,” Dungy said. “He’s taken to these new guys, just like he did some of our new guys last year, and he’ll do that all the time. He understands that’s what football is all about – bringing people in and getting them ready to go so when we need them, they’re ready.
“We had that situation last year, not necessarily with the receivers, but with some of our offensive linemen, tight ends and with (then-rookie running back) Joseph Addai. You want to get those guys ready to go as quickly as possibly. He (Manning) believes in that and he’s going to help those guys as much as he can.”
The work, Manning said, has continued with Addai this off-season – and with reserve running back DeDe Dorsey.
Addai, who led NFL rookies in rushing last season, has been working to improve as a pass receiver.
“It’s a real credit to Joe for being here this whole off-season,” Manning said. “I think that’s where he’s really trying to expand his game – by putting him in the slot or putting him out wide. He’s worked on his route-running. To me, that’s important. The running part, he’s got that in pretty good shape, but he’s saying, 'How can I get better?’
“He’s working in the slot. It’s been a huge part of our passing game this past year. Hopefully, that can continue – especially with Joe and hopefully, DeDe. You like to get those kinds of matchups with them on linebackers who probably aren’t as good a cover guys as safeties and corners. That’s been a good match-up for us.
Dorsey, who was acquired by the Colts off waivers just before last season, spent most of his rookie season as the team’s third running back, playing mostly on kickoff returns. But Dungy and Colts President Bill Polian each have said recently they expect Dorsey can be the back-up running back, a key position in an offense that used two backs – Addai and Dominic Rhodes – extensively last season.
“I had a couple of goals coming into this summer school session,” Manning said. “One of them was to get real comfortable with DeDe as far as handoffs. Every drill I do with Joe, and I go right back to DeDe. That’s how I’ve always done that. When I was with (former Colts running back) Edgerrin (James), I’d try to get comfortable with Dominic. At this point, DeDe is probably the guy who we’re going to count on to spell Joe and give us that change of tempo.
“What’s impressive is he did not use last year as a red-shirt year. He wasn’t wasting his time. He wasn’t sleeping in meetings. He’s very comfortable with the offense. He used the time last year. He was listening. He’s caught on to what we’re doing.
“He’s more comfortable and that’s really the only way you can play football: if you know what to do, and let your natural ability take over. That’s impressive, and I feel very good about where he and I are right now.”
One week remains in the Colts’ summer school session, and next week, they will hold four more organized team activities – OTAs, as they are known around the league – at the practice facility. Manning said he enjoys the time because often it’s when unknown players begin to show signs of contributing the following season, and because of the enthusiasm of young players.
“You kind of help these guys,” Manning said. “You want to give them every chance you can to make the team. Obviously, it’s a business. You know everybody won’t, but you want to give them all the chance.”
This off-season, there’s an added challenge. The Colts lost several key veteran players from last season, and Manning said replacing the leadership of players such as Rhodes and Brandon Stokley isn’t an automatic process.
“That’s a real challenge and I don’t think it can be rushed,” Manning said. “Losing Brandon Stokley, Dominic Rhodes, (linebacker) Cato June, (cornerback) Nick Harper, (defensive tackle) Montae Reagor, (safety) Mike Doss, (cornerback) Jason David – that’s a lot of plays, but a lot of leadership. “Nick and Jason were great leaders over there on defense. Cato was one of the team leaders, kind of our enthusiasm leader. Brandon loved football, loved to work and Dominic was high on life. You’re certainly going to miss those guys. They brought a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm and I don’t know if you can get that back in a four-week summer school period. That’s going to take some time and it’s going to take those things to happen to give some of these young guys the confidence to step up in that leadership role. Rookies are rookies, but if you’re a second-year player, there’s no difference between being a second-year player and a 12-year player. If you’re a starter and you’re called on to make some plays and to be a leader, we need you to do so.”