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 INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Peyton Manning and Dwight Freeney spent the offseason hobnobbing with the president, participating in victory celebrations and making guest appearances around the country.
Now the Indianapolis Colts' two leaders think it's finally time to get back to football - and defending their Super Bowl title.
``In the past we've always come here after a disappointing playoff loss and been able to put it behind us, and it's no different now,'' said Manning, the Super Bowl MVP. ``I think (the offseason) has been a little more of a challenge because we played three weeks longer. Some of the things we used to do in late January, we didn't have time to do this year, but we'd like it to be that way every year.''
For Manning, the offseason has been busy.
He's been to the White House twice, met England's Queen Elizabeth, guest-hosted ``Saturday Night Live'' and golfed in the shadows of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. Next weekend, he'll be grand marshal for the Indianapolis 500 Festival parade and wave the green flag to start the race.
But through Sunday, the NFL's star quarterback will be throwing footballs at the mandatory minicamp - an annual weekend Manning considers the symbolic start to a new season.
``It makes you want to do it again, and it reinforces my respect for teams like Denver and New England who have won it two years in a row,'' Manning said Friday. ``It makes you want to be a better team, and I really feel we should be.''
Having Freeney on hand was an added bonus.
By showing up, the three-time Pro Bowl defensive end veered from the path commonly taken by other players given the franchise tag.
While Freeney isn't expected to practice because he's not yet signed a one-year deal worth about $9 million in hopes of reaching a long-term deal with the Colts, Freeney considered it more important to show his teammates it was time to turn the page on their championship season.
``Hopefully, something will get done,'' Freeney said of his contract. ``I want to be here and I hope they want me to be here. They had no problems with me walking into the building.''
Dungy welcomed Freeney's decision, as well as the start of practice.
The minicamp is the only mandatory workout for veterans before the Colts open training camp July 29 at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute.
Even with Freeney, Manning and the Colts' other key players attending, they still expected to be short-handed. Injuries are expected to limit the participation of safety Bob Sanders and left tackle Ryan Diem this weekend.
And receiver Anthony Gonzalez, the Colts' top draft pick, will not practice because the league required he attend the NFL Player Rookie Premier event this weekend. Had he skipped that, league rules would have prohibited Gonzalez from working out at minicamp.
The requirements upset Dungy, who said the Colts deliberately scheduled their minicamp around class schedules and Mother's Day.
``I'm a little concerned about that because we try to talk about being a team, being united as a group and then you take 35 individuals and say 'You're a little different,''' Dungy said. ``It's a bad message, I think. We try to do things to help guys stay in school and then you encourage guys to do this.''
In the future, Dungy said, the Colts would consider scheduling their mandatory camp around the rookie event and may even hold it at midweek if league rules permit, something that could cause rookies to miss college classes.
School will create another problem for Gonzalez, who cannot work out with the Colts again until June 4 because he attends Ohio State where classes run into June. Not having Gonzalez around means Manning must wait to get his timing down with the team's newest offensive threat.
``It's unfortunate because I know he wants to be here this weekend,'' Manning said. ``I got a chance to meet him at the rookie camp, and he immediately pulled out this list of 20 questions about the offense.''
So what will it take to repeat?
Dungy cited several areas of concern when he met with the team Friday: Better coverage units on special teams, a stouter run defense, fewer penalties and more takeaways.
Manning and Freeney expect all of those numbers to improve so long as they don't get caught in the hype of being the defending champs.
``The biggest thing is don't worry about last year,'' Freeney said. ``Yeah, we won the big one last year, but last year was last year. I'm so excited to get back into the swing of things, and I want to win another one.''

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