|Colts' Addai playing key role in first feature role|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 31 October 2007 22:29|
Between his powerful runs, his ability to catch passes and his striking ability to block blitzers, the Indianapolis Colts noted the similarities with their franchise rushing leader and decided Addai was the perfect fit as his replacement in 2006.
Now, a year later, the transition is complete.
In Addai's first full season as an NFL feature back, he's rushed for more touchdowns than anybody in the league, is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and has delivered a resounding answer to the one question that has always chased him: Can he be a team's workhorse?
``He's a tough guy and a good player and you certainly don't want to wear anybody out,'' coach Tony Dungy said Wednesday. ``What Edgerrin (James) did here isn't normal, and it's not fair to expect that.''
Instead, the Colts have asked their budding 24-year-old star to do more than he ever has.
At Sharpstown High School, Addai was a star quarterback. At LSU, he started just 19 games, never ran for more than 1,000 yards and split carries with teammates such as Domanick Davis and LaBrandon Toefield.
Yet, Colts president Bill Polian saw enough in Addai to determine he could replace James.
It couldn't have worked out better.
He spent last season in a timeshare with Dominic Rhodes and still managed to rush for more yards than any other rookie (1,081) while catching 40 passes and scoring eight touchdowns, seven on the ground.
By the playoffs, Dungy had seen enough to make an uncharacteristic change - naming Addai the starter.
The result was even more impressive. Addai set NFL rookie postseason records for receptions (22), yards from scrimmage (412), scored the winning touchdown in the AFC title game and then set a Super Bowl record for receptions by a running back (10).
It was just the start. Indy let Rhodes walk away in free agency and turned over the bulk of the workload to Addai with a set of unproven backups.
Now, in his second year with the Colts, Addai has demonstrated the Colts made the right choice. He's fifth in the AFC in yards rushing (527), has scored one more touchdown (seven) than last year's MVP, LaDainian Tomlinson, and was named this week's AFC offensive player of the week after scoring three times at Carolina.
Everyone has noticed the changes, including Addai.
``Last year, coming into camp, I didn't know anything,'' he said. ``This year, I still don't know everything, but I feel more comfortable and I think that's what you're seeing.''
Addai's emergence hasn't changed the way Indy runs its offense, it has complemented it. The Colts are rushing for more than 140 yards per game while Addai has accounted for more than 55 percent of the carries despite missing one game.
This week, Addai's presence takes on greater significance as the Colts (7-0) prepare for the NFL's game of the year against New England (8-0). It's the first time in league history two unbeaten teams have met this late in the season, and if Addai is as effective Sunday as he's been all season, it will give Indy a chance to play ball control against the league's highest-scoring team.
The Patriots understand the problems Addai causes.
``Joseph Addai is running the ball very well,'' Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel said. ``He's impressive with his shiftiness and cutting and blocking.''
They've also witnessed the transformation from eager rookie to confident veteran, and not just on tape.
In the first meeting between the rivals last season, Addai ran 18 times for 43 yards and one TD in a 27-20 victory at Foxborough, Mass. In January's rematch, he beat them on a 3-yard scoring run with a minute left, sending Peyton Manning and his teammates to their first Super Bowl.
Manning believes Addai has improved.
``He's had a chance to study plays more, and as a rookie in this offense you're not quite as confident,'' Manning said. ``I think the experience he had as a rookie was really valuable. He's playing extremely well.'' But the comparisons between Addai and James may never vanish.
Addai will spend the next several years chasing James' records, albeit his own way and amid the one question that still remains - how good can Addai be?
``I've never really looked at it like that, like being the star,'' he said. ``Last year was a good situation because Dominic was starting, and I was getting feedback. I never look at how many carries I get. ... I just understand better where the blocks are coming from and where the players are coming from and I think that's made a difference.''