By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
The big question of the Indianapolis Colts’ 2011 training camp was left unanswered Thursday morning.
As the team broke ranks and prepared to return to Indianapolis for today’s preseason game against the Washington Redskins, there was still no word on when Peyton Manning will make his season debut.
The four-time NFL MVP spent the entire camp on the physically unable to perform list, but head coach Jim Caldwell again assured the assembled media that the quarterback’s recovery from offseason neck surgery is making progress.
“He’s coming back,” he said. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s when. Right now, he’s rehabbing, getting himself ready, and he’ll be back with us soon.”
Manning’s absence gave a different feel to the nearly three weeks of workouts at Anderson University.
Curtis Painter spent significant practice time working out with the first team, throwing countless passes to Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez, Pierre Garcon and Dallas Clark.
“Anytime you’re in with those guys, you know you don’t have to do anything outside of yourself,” Painter said. “Those guys are playmakers. If you just get the ball to them, they make the play. It’s been good working with them. I got to learn a lot from those guys, and that growth continues.”
The one place Manning’s absence wasn’t significantly felt was in the grandstands. The Colts drew an estimated 73,100 fans to watch practice this season. Last year’s total — 85,000 — was notably larger, but there was one extra practice in 2010 than in 2011.
The average attendance per session wasn’t markedly changed. Some 3,541 fans attended an average workout in 2010. The number was 3,178 per practice in 2011.
“It just really seems that everything has come together the way it should,” Anderson University president James Edwards said. “The fans had a great time. The Colts got done what they needed to get done. And, from a management point of view, we’re really proud of our people and we’re really happy. The volunteers have been amazing, to retain that energy through a long camp like this. So it’s a win-win-win for us.”
The camp was a hit with the team as well.
“It’s certainly been what we think is a good camp for us,” Caldwell said. “We’ve made steady improvement. Anderson is a great environment for us. The guys really stayed focus. And I think, obviously, we got better.”
Business picked up Tuesday when the university and the Colts jointly announced an agreement to hold training camp in Anderson through 2016.
The news was met by loud cheers from an estimated crowd of 9,000 at that night’s practice.
And the players all have been on board as well.
“It’s good to know (we’ll be coming back the next five years),” running back Donald Brown said. “Anderson’s a great place. They treat us well here, and they have great facilities.”
Other players stressed that preseason training isn’t over.
Practice will resume Saturday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center in Indianapolis. Those sessions will be closed to the public.
“We’ve still got two weeks of training camp, and then we finally get the season going,” wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. “But it’s a good feeling to be in a new environment and keep trying to improve.”
As the players left the field at Macholtz Stadium for the final time, Caldwell was left alone to face the media.
He said he was looking forward to returning home and spending time with his family.
But he’s a football man to the core, and part of his heart will be staying in Anderson.
“I’m never ready to break camp,” he said. “I love camp, to be honest with you. I just think we get so much done in this environment, and I think it’s good for everyone.”