WESTFIELD, Ind. — You can't ask for a better six-day spread of special training camp visitors if you're the Indianapolis Colts.
On Saturday, former great defensive end Dwight Freeney — who is being inducted into the team's Ring of Honor in November — came to Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind., to check out practice, get in some drills with the defensive linemen and talk with the team.
Earlier in the week, Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian did the same — and he even decided to stick around a few more days.
And on Thursday, the team welcomed many, many more alums to take in the team's final training camp practice of the year, as the organization continues its effort to connect the greatness of its past with its exciting future.
Among those in attendance who talked to the team on Thursday were legendary quarterback Peyton Manning and Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy; Manning spoke at a morning team meeting, while Dungy addressed the players after their final practice had wrapped up.
"What's really cool is they're just excited about what's happening here and rooting for our team and for our guys and proud to be here," head coach Frank Reich said of the special visitors. "And we're proud to have them here."
Reich asked Manning if he'd come check out training camp earlier in the year, and No. 18 ended up taking full advantage of his stay. He got in late Wednesday night, but still headed over to the team's training camp headquarters at the Grand Park Events Center and was able to meet with members of both the offensive and defensive coaching staffs.
On Thursday, he continued those conversations with the Colts players — including quarterback Andrew Luck — and then checked out practice with several former teammates, coaches and colleagues.
"It was great to have Peyton here," Reich said. "I tell you what, he got in last night, I don't know 9:30, 10 (p.m.). He stayed with our offensive staff until 12:30, 1 (a.m.) just talking football, telling war stories and then spent time with our defensive staff today and then again with our offensive staff and then with Nick (Sirianni), our offensive coordinator. Just very valuable. There's a lot of good insight from Peyton."
Manning also met with reporters after Thursday's practice. Here's that entire conversation:
How was your experience here at the Colts' training camp?
Manning: "It was great. Got in last night; went over there (Grand Park Events Center), and Frank asked me to come in about this past spring. So came in, (it) worked out good. I was in Evansville yesterday for this hospital announcement; came in last night, watched some film with the offensive staff, and talked to the team this morning. Then met with the defensive staff, met with the offensive of staff, the quarterbacks coach. And so I enjoyed the day. You get to see a lot of old friends and enjoyed watching them practice."
What did you think about this Colts team here? Seems to be pretty talented.
Manning: "Yeah, boy, it sure seems like it; a lot of depth, which always helps. And Chris and Frank have done a great job. So it'll be an exciting year for them."
You've obviously had your share of injuries. We know right now Andrew Luck is dealing with his calf/ankle situation. What did you tell him? How'd you encourage him?
Manning: "Oh, like I said, just encouraged him; wished him luck. I know he wants to be out here. I know that's always the hardest thing when I was not playing was not being out there. And you want to be out there participating. So I know he's dying to get out here and be back as soon as he can. And I'm pulling for him to be healthy for Week 1, when it really matters and counts. And I feel pretty good about him being out there."
Do the emotions come rushing back being here, seeing the Colts uniform and Jim Irsay and the gang?
Manning: "Well, I've been back to several games over the past three years. So I played with Reggie (Wayne), (and) last year he went into the Ring of Honor; Dwight's (Freeney's) going in this year. So yeah, I always have emotions and great feelings coming back here, even when I just arrive into the city. But being at the facility or being down to the stadium, or certainly being around football and training camp is always fun. Great memories. And especially when you come back here, see the equipment staff and the training staff and Frank, it's always special — Bill (Polian) and Tony (Dungy) and Jim (Irsay), I had a great visit with them, so it was a fun day."
You at one time had a situation where you had to miss a lot of training camp. What was it like playing catch-up once things got going in the regular season for you?
Manning: "Ah, I guess it just depends. Certainly probably is a little bit of … there was a little catch up for me, and just kind of physically getting out there. But it doesn't take quite as long as maybe you think it's going to take once you get out there and kind of get going again. So, look, it's just part of it and everybody deals with it. And I know I've got to believe Andrew feels like I felt; wishes it wasn't as much of an ordeal and speculation as there is. But that comes with the territory, being the quarterback, being the first pick. And so that's just part of the deal. He's handling it well and I think, like I said, I hope for a positive result real soon."
You enjoyed talking offense with Frank Reich? And he was you position coach going back to a few of your years here — what were you able to do and watch with them?
Manning: "They had different questions. Frank had talked about some questions that we wanted to discuss, some topics with the offensive staff and defensive staff; what things you liked, what things you didn't like. So just kind of good football talk, which I don't know how much I said that they didn't already know, but it's fun for me to kind of get a football fix and talk some ball, and tell some stories and watch some film. So I've really enjoyed it. I appreciate Frank and Jim bringing me in, and if I helped out a little bit, even better."
Have you been getting your football fix in other ways with "Peyton's Places" on ESPN?
Manning: "Yeah, I've been doing that. Yeah. I'll be watching a lot of games. I'll be a lot of games still and like everybody, glad football season's here; and (I'll) see the Broncos and Colts and the Giants and Tennessee Vols, so I'm hoping for good years for all of them."
How much did you learn from us as far as interviewing people? You kind of got on the other side of the microphone.
Manning: "Yeah, I'm not a very good interviewer. As a matter of fact, the first couple of episodes we did, I had to hold the mic … I'm not good. No more holding than mic. I call them football conversations, right? It's pretty much the same thing as an interview, but mentally it feels different. So I'm not a good interviewer, but I'm a good at having football conversations."