ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — The Colts offense is off to a good start.
A little more than nine months after Reggie Wayne injured his right knee, the perennial Pro Bowler finally made it back to practice Thursday morning. Running backs Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw, and starting guard Donald Thomas were all on the field, too. And for the first time since September, the Colts looked like their old selves.
“You get five starters back on offense, and you’ve got to be excited,” coach Chuck Pagano said as Indy opened training camp. “We had young guys that got thrust into the front line (last year) and it will pay dividends down the road, but we feel really good about getting those guys back.”
Tight end Dwayne Allen also missed most of last season with a hip injury but participated in the Colts’ offseason workouts.
That was not the case for the others.
Wayne and Ballard spent all those months rehabbing from torn ACLs. Bradshaw had season-ending neck surgery in October. And although Thomas may have had the toughest path back after having surgery to repair a torn biceps and a torn quad, all eyes were focused on Wayne, the 35-year-old receiver who kept promising he’d be ready for the start of camp.
Yes, the first practice was only a light walkthrough. But in Wayne’s world, it was a milestone.
After practice, he jogged from the field to the locker room to avoid talking to reporters and marking one of the few times in his career that he was the first player off the field.
“Whenever you put all that hard work into motion, you want to go out there when everybody else is out there,” he said after arriving at camp Wednesday. “I’ve already felt like I’ve kind of left these guys hanging for a while now. My goal is to make sure I’m ready for training camp and so far, so good.”
A year ago, the Colts left camp expecting to build on the success of Andrew Luck’s rookie season.
But the injuries hit hard and fast.
Allen went down with a hip injury in Week 1 and Ballard injured his knee in practice a few days later. Thomas was carted off the field in Week 2, and Bradshaw hurt his neck in Week 3, decimating a ground game the Colts hoped would take some of the pressure off of Luck’s right arm. When Wayne got hurt in Week 7, the once formidable-looking lineup was in big trouble.
Luck and the backups spent the next six weeks searching for answers and consistency as they alternated wins and losses for six weeks. They closed the season with three straight wins to win the AFC South.
Indy used its first selection in May’s draft on Jack Mewhort, a versatile offensive lineman who lined up Thomas’ old spot, left guard, in May and June.
T.Y. Hilton completed his breakout season with 1,083 yards and five touchdowns, Da’Rick Rogers emerged as a potential threat and the Colts signed former Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks in free agency.
The Colts now have three running backs vying for the starting job: Trent Richardson, the first non-quarterback selected in the 2012 draft; Bradshaw, who won two Super Bowl rings with the Giants; and Ballard, who led the Colts with 811 yards rushing as a rookie in 2012.
“I’ve been in this environment before, with Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward in New York,” Bradshaw said, noting he’s eager to test his body. “I’m a running back, so I’m going to try and not get hit, but like you said, I’m a physical back and I can’t wait to get that first hit.”
He will have to wait a few more days because NFL rules prohibit the Colts from working out in full pads until Saturday.
By then, Ballard could have a better idea of how he’ll fare on his next test.
“I just want to get out there and play fast,” he said. “When I’m playing fast, I’ll feel like I’m back.”
Luck already does feel like things are back in sync.
“It’s great to have the whole offensive line back, great football players back, great competition. It’s fun to be around,” Luck said. “When you are around great players all the time, it makes you better. It makes you step your game up.”
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