SUDDENLY, A VETERAN

Colts running back Joseph Addai, a Pro Bowl selection last season, said he doesn't feel like a third-year NFL veteran. Still, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said the 2006 first-round draft selection has assumed a leadership role entering the 2008 season.

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Addai Taking on Leadership Role in Third Colts Season
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – He's not a rookie anymore.

It's just that to Joseph Addai, sometimes it doesn't feel that way.

Addai, the Colts' starting running back, is entering his third NFL season, packing into two seasons what many NFL backs would consider a career's worth of accomplishments.

A Super Bowl title. Two 1,000-yard rushing seasons. A Pro Bowl appearance.

Still, although Addai – the Colts' first-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft and a Pro Bowl selection last season – has joined the category of a Colts veteran, he said it just doesn't seem possible he's entering his third season.

Not even close.

"It seems like it goes fast," Addai, who attended Louisiana State University, said Monday morning between a pair of 2008 Training Camp practices at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

"It seems like I was at LSU yesterday and now I'm going into my third year, so I'm just really enjoying it and happy that I'm at this point."

If Addai – who spoke extensively to the media for the first time in 2008 Training Camp Monday –doesn't exactly feel like a veteran, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said that doesn't much matter.

Because Dungy said the truth is Addai not only is a veteran, he's very much acting like one this season.

"Joe's a little more relaxed and I think he does understand he has to be one of the leaders," Dungy said Monday. "We talked a little bit about just some different little fine details. He and (veteran running back) Dom(inic Rhodes) made a special point to be on a couple of those details we talked about for the first practice.

"Knowing that you are a guy that your teammates depend on, that's going to be big for Joseph."

Not that Addai has been anything but dependable in his first two NFL seasons.

As a rookie, despite not starting a regular-season game, Addai finished with 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns on 226 carries. Last season, Dungy said he made the improvement many NFL players make from their first to second seasons, starting 15 games and rushing for 1,072 yards and 12 touchdowns on 261 carries, an average of 4.3 yards per attempt.

He caught 41 passes – third on the Colts – for 364 yards and three touchdowns, with his 15 touchdowns the fourth-highest total in the NFL.

He also made the Pro Bowl for the first time.

"The first year I was just trying to learn the system," Addai said. "Year Three, it's kind of the same thing, but I'm already ahead. I understand what's going on, but you have to start over and keep on doing what you've been doing. You have to start from Day One and go and try to get to that point.

"Now I understand that's going on, but at the same time, I can't forget the little things. That's what a lot of people tend to do. They forget what they've been doing and not do what they've been doing over the years. I know what's going on, but I'm still taking it from Day One."

The difference between camp this season and camp in 2006, Addai said, is simple: Just about everything, but primarily he said it's how he approaches the game mentally.

"My rookie camp, I knew I was going to make mistakes," Addai said. "I made the mistakes and I just had to learn from them. Now, it's not so much that I'm worried about making those mistakes. We have practice, so you will make mistakes – I don't care how long you've been in this game.

"But it's just how you handle it. I try to just focus on the little things. If I can be in the game and not miss a beat with the team, I'm happy with that."

Addai did not practice Monday morning, but worked with the team in the two-hour afternoon session, a once-a-day schedule Addai said is designed to reduce wear and tear.

"A lot of running backs take a lot of pounding," he said. "They just thought it was best for me and a couple of people to go one."

Addai on Monday also said he expects to be helped this season by the return of Dominic Rhodes, his backfield mate in 2006 who re-signed with the team this past off-season after a year with the Oakland Raiders.

The two shared time in 2006, with Rhodes starting all 16 regular-season games and Addai starting four postseason games. Addai became the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season without starting a game, and Rhodes rushed for more than 100 yards in the Colts' Super Bowl victory over Chicago.

"It seems like he never left," Addai said. "Just him being around, it makes the locker room a whole lot better. Just him being there, it feels good, because you've got somebody who's been playing for a while. . . .

"This game is rough, so you need that kind of depth, especially for us. We have a lot of guys who know what's going on, and that's a good thing. Having that depth is good for what we have going on."

While at the Pro Bowl last February, Addai said he felt the running backs as a group "could have put ourselves in a position to be better" late last season. He averaged 100.5 yards per game in his first seven games of the season, and had four 100-yard games in that span.

In the last eight games, Indianapolis averaged just over 75 yards a game rushing, with Addai rushing for just over 46 yards per game, statistics Dungy said this offseason likely can be at least partially attributed to Addai's transition from backup to full-time starter and statistics Addai said he doesn't want duplicated this season.

"I think the biggest thing this year is just being consistent," Addai said. "I think that's the good thing about football. You come back. I don't think it made the team go down, but it's something you can learn from, so that's probably a goal of mine this year – to just try to stay consistent."

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