Manning's Absence Gives Colts Training Camp Unusual Look . . . And Sound
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Teammates noticed it immediately.
With Peyton Manning not at quarterback for the Colts Friday morning, and with backup Jim Sorgi working with the first team, wide receiver Reggie Wayne said the difference was obvious.
But Wayne said the difference wasn't necessarily in the quarterback's presence in the huddle. Or in the play-calling. Or even in the passes.
Actually, Wayne said it was a difference not so much seen as heard because to Wayne, practice on Friday morning was . . . was . . .
Well, it was just a lot quieter.
"I heard the birds chirping today," Wayne said Friday, the first day of practice at 2008 Colts Training Camp, being held the next three weeks at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. "You normally don't hear that with Peyton out there. He's out there saying something."
Such was the theme on the first day of Colts practice.
Manning, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection who never has missed a practice or regular-season start in 10 NFL seasons, missed Friday's workout, and is expected to miss the next several weeks after recently undergoing a routine procedure to remove a bursa sac on his left knee.
Sorgi, Manning's backup the past four seasons, worked with the first team Friday morning, with newly-acquired veterans Jaren Lorenzen and Quinn Gray also working at the position.
Afterward, when players spoke with the media, questions focused on the return of Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison, but just as many focused on the team's first practice in memory without the two-time National Football League Most Valuable Player.
"I've been here since he has, so it's odd snapping to another quarterback, and going through all the normal presets and the pre-formation type stuff," Colts three-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said. "But Sorg and Gray and Jaren – those guys all did a great job. They came out and they were prepared.
"I thought they fit right in and did what they had to do. Our offensive moved efficiently."
Said Wayne, "It's going to be different. He's our leader. We go off his pace. By him not being out there, it kind of slowed down a little bit, but that was expected. Hopefully, we'll kind of get everything going, get those quarterbacks up to speed and get some timing with Sorgi."
Manning not only has started every game since Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy's arrival, he has played with the first-team in almost all of the plays of every practice. In each of Dungy's first six training camps with the team, it was Manning who took the first snap.
"It's been a constant for me in seven years being here, seeing him take the first snap, so that was different," Dungy said. "But I think everyone adjusted. Jim did a good job.
"I think this offensive unit really relished the challenge. It was good."
Sorgi, who has completed 77 of 126 career passes for 751 yards with six touchdowns and an interception, never has started an NFL game. He also has taken comparatively few repetitions with the first team in practice, with Manning typically taking nearly every such snap in practice.
"I never really realized how much Peyton really works at practice," Sorgi said. "The man works hard, let me tell you."
On Thursday, Manning – who spoke to Sorgi by phone Wednesday evening – called the coming weeks a huge opunity for the fifth-year veteran from the University of Wisconsin.
"I've always kind of felt badly for Jim," Manning said. "In preseason (in the past) he was playing with a lot of guys who weren't going to make the team and probably weren't going to block for him real well or make a whole lot of plays for him. The opportunity for him now to get some repetitions with the first team and some solid protection is more fair to him. It's a great opportunity for him.
"I think Jim will do fine. Jim's gotten better every year in his limited playing time. He's used his time on the sidelines and in meeting rooms to improve his knowledge and to be more confident in the system. I think he'll do just fine in training camp and in the preseason games. It will be a good experience for him."
Said Colts President Bill Polian, "One of the things that the fans are correctly concerned about is that they haven't seen Jim play with the first group except for a couple of occasions at the end of the season, and even there we were undermanned because of injuries.
"He'll get a really good opportunity to work with the first group and develop cohesion with them and I'm sure the fans are going to like what they see."
Sorgi on Friday said beyond realizing the work load of a first-team quarterback, his first practice with the starters "was fine."
"I think it's just because of the guys who are on the first unit," Sorgi said. "They want to help me get comfortable with everything. Jeff (Saturday) is in there talking to me, letting me know some things. It was easier than I thought it was going to be – I think just because of the caliber of players that are out there.
"It went a lot smoother than I thought it was going to go in the first practice. We had a couple of miscommunication errors, a couple of dropped balls and things like that, but I think it's just getting used to each other.
"We ran the right play when we were supposed to run the right play. It felt good."
Sorgi said his challenge in the coming weeks will be less about learning an offense he has studied for the past four years and more about fitting in with the starters.
"It's not so much a learning curve as far as what to do with the offense," Sorgi said. "I've pretty much got the offense down. It's more how to handle yourself as the first quarterback, going in there and doing your job. I think that's going to be more of a learning curve than anything, trying to be the Peyton Manning-leader type, and trying to keep the tempo of practice up and stuff like that."
After practice, surrounded by the reporters and cameras that typically surround Manning following camp's first workout, Sorgi was asked if he liked the new attention.
"I don't plan on getting Peyton Manning attention," he said. "He gets it because he wins Super Bowls and Pro Bowls. I'm getting it because The Man's hurt. The Man's going to be back. We just don't know how long that's going to be. Until that time, I'm happy filling that role."
Said Wayne, "It was a pretty good start for Sorg. Sorg is Sorg. He's no new kid on the block. He's been around for a minute, so he knows what to do. Whenever you've got somebody with some experience who knows what to do, it's a plus."