ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — The months-long wait for Indianapolis Colts linebacker Jonathan Newsome is finally over.
After dozens of non-contact workouts, constant meetings and endless hours of film study, he’s getting back to real football.
“We got a little taste of it yesterday,” Newsome said Wednesday. “The only difference today is putting on the pants, but for me once we put on the pads, it’s time to start hitting.”
Indianapolis is one of the last NFL teams to dress in full regalia.
Players didn’t report to camp until Aug. 1, and because of the collective bargaining agreement, the two-time AFC South champs couldn’t have full contact until Tuesday.
Coach Chuck Pagano delayed the start even longer. At Tuesday afternoon’s workout, Pagano instructed players to dress only in helmets and shoulder pads.
The full pads didn’t come on until Wednesday night when the Colts drew their biggest crowd of the week at Anderson University, a Division III school located about 45 miles northeast of team headquarters on Indianapolis’ west side.
It’s a day many players have longed for.
“I think all of us are ready to hit, that’s why we play football,” center Khaled Holmes said. “It’s the dog days of camp and you’re getting sore and tired, but so is everyone else.”
The return of hitting isn’t the only thing giving players an energy boost as camp kicks into high gear.
With music blaring, the stadium seats filled to capacity and hundreds more people milled about the food and entertainment near the playing field. Oohs and aahs could be heard after every big play or, of course, any big hit. It’s the only time this year that the Colts are practicing at night, something team officials like to do periodically to give working families a chance to watch practice.
To players, the electric atmosphere is a reminder of their prep days under the Friday night lights. And adding pads to the mix only pumped things up.
“It is a special thing, it’s donning your full gear,” said Andrew Luck, who spends most of the team drills at training camp working against Indy’s starting defense. “Practice doesn’t change much for us (quarterbacks), but for the people who are hitting, it changes for them.”
Pagano does take some precautions, though.
On Tuesday, in shorts, he instructed defensive players to avoid making contact below the waist.
On Wednesday, he reminded players these are teammates — not opponents — and that they need to stay healthy when they head home next week.
Pagano also kept some players out of the action.
Former NFL sacks champion Robert Mathis (Achilles’ tendon) and former starting guard Donald Thomas (quad) are both on the physically unable to perform list. Linebacker Nate Irving (knee) has been limited all week and dressed in a helmet, shoulder pads and shorts. Running back Vick Ballard, who is trying to come back from two straight season-ending injuries, left Tuesday’s practice early after his left hamstring tightened up and was given an extra day of rest Wednesday.
Indy is taking Thursday off.
Even the most preventive measures can’t eliminate all collisions, though.
On a play Tuesday afternoon, Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton took a shot near his feet and was bent awkwardly, but he bounced right up. Hilton finished practice and was back to work Wednesday night, ready to take any shots that came his way.
Newsome thinks it’s about time.
“This is football,” he said. “It’s no longer tag football.”