Addai starts off on right foot

Rookie running back could test Ravens' top-ranked defense

Pro Football

January 09, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

INDIANAPOLIS -- When Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy closed practice last week before his team's AFC wild-card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs, it was as much a psychological ploy to throw off good friend Herman Edwards as it was to hide anything Dungy was changing in terms of strategy.

But there was at least one move Dungy didn't want to expose: rookie running back Joseph Addai making his first NFL postseason start.

There will be no such deception as the Colts prepare for Saturday's AFC divisional round playoff game against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Addai, a late first-round draft pick after a solid career at LSU, will be his team's featured back against the league's top defense.

That's because of what Addai did against the Chiefs. On a day when Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw three interceptions and Chiefs running back Larry Johnson was held to 32 yards on 13 carries, Addai rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in a 23-8 victory Saturday at the RCA Dome.

"Sometimes it's good to be the underdog," Addai said. "There's not a lot of pressure on you. I think [Johnson] had a lot of pressure on him because everyone expected him to do so many things. There wasn't a lot of pressure on [me and Dominic Rhodes], so we just took advantage of what they gave us."

Told by his coaches late in the week that he would start in place of Rhodes, Addai admitted that he needed to come onto the field a couple of times long before the game began in order to calm down. Addai started the game with 22 yards on his first three carries.

"A lot of people, they have to get amped up and ready to play, but me, I have [to] calm myself down," said Addai, who rushed for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns on 266 carries during the regular season while splitting time with Rhodes, a six-year veteran.

Addai (pronounced a-Die) also began to understand what some of his teammates had been talking about all season, how the playoffs are much more intense.

"In the playoffs, there's a fast pace," said Addai, who was replaced by Rhodes late in the game after suffering from leg cramps. "They're coming at you. Every play they're hitting you. And I knew that, people have been telling me since training camp, so I was ready for it."

Manning was not surprised by Addai's coming-out performance in his first playoff game.

"That's the way he's been playing all year," said Manning, who completed 30 of 38 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown.

"He's picked things up extremely fast. Playing in the SEC and playing at LSU prepared him for the NFL - he really adjusted quickly. He's allowed us to run our offense - he and Dominic both - have allowed us to run the same plays and be as complex with our audibles and our system as we've been in the nine years that I've been here."

Not only was the team's running game a huge question mark going into the season after losing longtime workhorse Edgerrin James through free agency to the Arizona Cardinals, but Addai didn't have the stats and didn't seem to have the star quality of other running backs in last year's draft.

Knowing that the Colts were picking 30th and didn't have a chance at USC's Reggie Bush, team president Bill Polian and his scouts focused on Addai, Minnesota's Laurence Maroney, DeAngelo Williams of Memphis and UCLA's Maurice Jones-Drew.

"That was one of the reasons Bill decided not to franchise Edgerrin," Dungy said. "We knew it was going to be a good draft for running backs. We felt we were going to get one of those guys, and they would all bring something to the table ... Bill was a Joseph Addai guy."

Dungy soon believed that the 5-foot-11, 214-pound Addai was the best fit because of what James had done for the Colts.

"Honestly, when you look at everything we do, Joseph was the most like Edgerrin of all those guys in his ability to pass-block, run routes, his understanding of the passing game, playing in really a pro-style offense with Nick Saban, playing fullback, playing slot receiver," Dungy said.

It took one visit for Addai to confirm what the Colts had seen on tape from his years at LSU, where he finished fifth in school history in rushing yardage (2,549) despite starting only 19 of 51 games because of a surplus of quality running backs.

"When I sat down and talked with him about pass protection and the calls they made [at LSU] and picking up linebackers and drills they had done, he was just so precise in how he explained what they did," Dungy said. "I just felt he wasn't going to have a lot of trouble picking up what we do."

Aside from demonstrating a powerful running style, Addai also caught 40 passes for 325 yards and a touchdown this season. None of the other rookies picked in last spring's draft rushed for more yards than Addai, and only Jones-Drew, who was chosen 60th overall by Jacksonville, had more overall offensive yardage (1,481).

Just because his playoff debut was such a success doesn't guarantee anything for Addai this week, particularly against the Ravens.

"Each week is different. We don't know what the situation might be," Addai said. "You're just really trying to go out and get positive yardage. If we do that, we'll have games like [Kansas City] ... We'll take what they give us. If I keep doing what I've been doing, I'll be all right."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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