INDIANAPOLIS – Curtis Painter strolled into the locker room with a few moments left in the Wednesday media session.
Many of his teammates had spoken already, and Painter was about to fulfill his obligation, too. As he turned the corner for the eight steps to his locker, a pack of reporters and camera operators opened a path for him. Then the pack closed. Painter greeted the assembled group and commented with humor, "Fire away."
Such is the mid-week practice for quarterbacks around the NFL. Painter is enjoying being a part of the mix, and he is prepared to do anything the club asks of him this Sunday.
"Not yet, it's a little bit early, I think," said Painter when asked if he knew if he were the starter this Sunday. "I'm just going to go in there with the mindset that I will be playing. Whatever happens down the road will go off that."
When asked if he 'earned' the starting job with his performance at Tampa Bay, Painter moved in the pocket, so to speak, and focused on the team.
"We did some things well, scored a couple of times," said Painter. "I guess I can't speculate on whether I earned it or not, I guess we did some things well. Always coming out of it (the game), we need to improve a little bit also…I don't think there's a guy in the NFL who doesn't want to play. Certainly, I would love to play, but, again, whatever role I need to be in, I'll take that role."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell was asked about the plans for Sunday against Kansas City.
"At this point, Kerry (Collins) is not cleared as of yet," said Caldwell. "Curtis is our starter until the doctors tell us otherwise...Right now, Curtis is our starter and Kerry can't practice at this point."
Monday night was Painter's first career start, and it was only his fourth career game. Painter played during the last two games of his 2009 rookie season when the club subbed some starters in preparation for the playoffs. He made no regular-season appearances in 2010.
As any young player is at the outset of a career, Painter was happy to get more game action on his resume.
"(It was good) just continuing to learn experience," said Painter. "As much time as I got in the preseason with practice and games, it's (the experience) still a little different than the regular season games. Any time I've gotten a little bit of action in regular season games, it's been very helpful. I will certainly take that and try to build off it. I felt confident in the offense. I felt confident in what they (teammates) were doing. You'd like to have a few more plays here and there, a few more throws that you'd like to have back. Overall, I felt comfortable in there, which is good."
Part of playing quarterback in the league is having to contend with moving parts. While that typically means an opposing team's moving parts, Painter contended with the in-game loss of rookie left tackle and first-round draft pick Anthony Castonzo. Castonzo went down early in the game with an ankle injury. Second-round pick Ben Ijalana stepped in for Castonzo, but he went down in the fourth quarter with a knee injury. Indianapolis had to move right tackle Jeff Linkenbach to the left side and insert Mike Tepper at right tackle. Tepper, a guard, had been signed off the practice squad earlier in the day, and the club also was without veteran right guard Ryan Diem.
"I was aware (of where guys were). Our guys are pretty versatile, and you can move guys around," said Painter. "I think that helps out. Again, I think they did a pretty good job. I don't think there was no concern on my end."
On Wednesday, the club placed Ijalana on injured reserve, ending his season. The Colts signed veteran offensive tackles Michael Toudouze and Quinn Ojinnaka. Toudouze, a fourth-year pro, has started one of seven games while being with the team during different parts of the 2007-10 seasons. Ojinnaka is a sixth-year veteran who started 12 of 39 games with Atlanta from 2006-09, then played in eight games with New England in 2010.
Painter managed the moving parts on his side of the ball on Monday, and he hopes to do so on Sunday.
"It's tough. Obviously, injuries are never fun. I think the guys who stepped in there did a pretty good job," said Painter. "Hopefully with the week of practice and trying to catch them up, they'll continue to do a good job. I don't think that's a concern. They guys here are pretty good. I think we will be all right.
"I guess the good thing is they've (new signees) been here for a while. We bring back guys who are familiar with the team, not necessarily a whole lot new faces but moving guys around."
Last Monday, Painter became the 10th Colts quarterback since 1984 to have a first career start with the team. The most recent was Peyton Manning in 1998, and Painter is the only one of the group to throw two scoring passes in a starting debut. He connected with wide receiver Pierre Garcon on 87- and 59-yard scoring passes as the club built seven- and 10-point leads.
While he wishes he could have joined Chris Chandler (1988) as debut-winner, Painter said those plays stood out for him, and the performance provided emphasis points for this week.
"The big plays were huge. The first drive we went down and got some points on the board, that was big," said Painter. "We did some things well. (We need to) just go back and getting better, focusing what we've talked about in the past, third downs and in the red zone trying to keep those drives instead of settling for field goals."
Should he start this week, Painter will see a talented Kansas City defense that kept the Colts from scoring a touchdown until the final stages of a 19-9 win in Lucas Oil Stadium last October 10. Painter would expect the same sort of effort by the Chiefs this Sunday.
"They're a good defense. They play hard," said Painter. "It will be a challenge for us, much like Tampa Bay was. They're not I guess the 'exotic' team like the New York Jets or the Baltimore Ravens, but they're very good and very solid. They do their stuff very well. It will be a challenge for us. We will take this week and try to find some ways to attack it. Really, it will be about us playing good football."