ALWAYS LEARNING, ALWAYS IMPROVING

Colts third-year tight end Tom Santi said while his first two NFL seasons have been cut short, they also have given him confidence he can be productive at the professional level.

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Colts Tight End Tom Santi Says Availability Will Be Key Entering Third NFL Season

INDIANAPOLIS – Tom Santi said he very much knows what's imant this season.

Santi, a tight end entering his third season with the Colts, has played at times during his first two NFL seasons, and at times, he has played in crucial situations.

He also has been effective at times.

But Santi, a sixth-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft from the University of Virginia, said while that is true, something else more important is equally true:

There haven't been quite as many of those times as he would like.

And that, he said, is what he wants to change.

"I've got to stay healthy," Santi said during the Colts' recent 2010 organized team activities, four weeks of on-field, team-oriented activities that concluded June 11 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

"What I'm learning is that that is actually a skill in the NFL."

Santi (6-feet-3, 250 pounds) said that's a skill he wants to master.

But he also said recently in the time that he has played during two seasons he very much has shown himself that he has the ability to play effectively in the NFL.

Santi, who started 25 of 47 games at Virginia while catching 97 passes for 1,184 yards, played effectively upon joining the Colts in the 2008 off-season, making the roster as a rookie and starting two games early that season.

He played primarily as an H-back, spending time on the active roster and practice squad and catching 10 passes for 64 yards. He also that season caught a critical touchdown pass – a seven-yarder from Colts quarterback Peyton Manning – that began a dramatic comeback victory at Houston.

He was then placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, returning last season to again move into the starting lineup at times after initially spending time on the practice squad.

He caught eight passes for 107 yards, including a career-best six-reception, 80-yard game in a November victory at Baltimore. He was then placed on injured reserve in early January with a back injury.

"I've talked with older guys, and unfortunately for me, most of the stuff I've had has been stuff that's just unavoidable," Santi said. "I hate to say it, but I've been unlucky. That's part of the game, though. It's not a woe-is-me type situation, but I'm making sure I'm doing everything I can to eliminate those injuries."

Far more important, Santi said, than the time missed is the time he has played.

And he said in that time he has done enough, seen enough and made enough plays to know he is capable of making a big contribution to one of the NFL's best offenses.

"When I've been available, I've been productive," Santi said. "While I need to focus on my production, I also have to pay attention to my availability."

Santi said despite missing time, he enters the 2010 season feeling like a veteran, and believing he has gained experience necessary to improve in the preseason and enter the regular season with a chance to contribute. He said he learned as a rookie that no matter a player's experience level he must be ready to play when called upon. He said the experience of last season reiterated that lesson, and that it's a lesson from which he must grow and improve this season.

"Things happen fast in this league, and you're always learning, always improving," Santi said. "It doesn't take long before you burn off that rookie layer. Certainly here, they do a good job of getting everybody going.

"I'm just looking forward to staying healthy and having a good productive year."

Santi said toward that end he has studied film extensively this off-season, looking for areas that need to improve and also looking for ways to contribute most effectively in the offense. He said through that process he realized that he needs overall improvement, which was his primary focus during OTAs.

"I'd say my biggest goal by the time the season starts is to have improved in every area," Santi said. "I did a lot of film review of my own personal play from last year. I found the things I know I need to work on, so that has been a focus. I want to have everything improved when we get under underway."

That will happen August 1, when the Colts open training camp at Andersen University, and it is then that Santi said he hopes the circumstances he faced in recent seasons change for the positive.

"I feel the time out has been the biggest thing to keep me from having any kind of continuity," Santi said. "From rehabbing, getting back, rehabbing, getting back again – it's hard. You lose some of that consistency.

"Hopefully, this year will be different, and hopefully I've gotten that stuff out of the way."

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