Colts open minicamp without two offensive coaches, star WR Wayne

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts aren't accustomed to transitional phases.

But suddenly, the Colts have a new head coach, a handful of new assistants and dozens of rookies all trying to figure out the practice routine.

At least three-time league MVP Peyton Manning is still throwing passes.

The Colts, one of the NFL's most stable organizations over the past 11 seasons, are now undergoing their biggest offseason overhaul in eight years.

Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy and longtime assistants Tom Moore and Howard Mudd have all retired. Defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and special teams coach Russ Purnell were replaced. Marvin Harrison, the franchise's career receiving leader, was released.

And when the latest voluntary minicamp opened Tuesday, the Colts began putting the pieces back together.

"Tom and Howard are two of the best coaches in the game that have ever coached at this level, but I think the two guys we have know this system well and will do well in this transition," new coach Jim Caldwell said. "That's our goal and aim for the next month, to focus in on where we are now and to get better."

Or at least to figure out all those new titles.

Moore and Mudd retired last week to avoid losing pension benefits under the NFL's revised plan, NFL Coaches Association executive director Larry Kennan confirmed Tuesday.

The Colts turned over the play-calling duties to Clyde Christensen, the assistant head coach, and promoted Pete Metzelaars to offensive line coach. Caldwell announced two coaching interns Tuesday, saying that Frank Winters, the longtime Green Bay Packers center, will assist Metzelaars with the line, and former NFL wide receiver Ron Johnson will help Christensen coach the receivers.

Moore and Mudd eventually might return as consultants, but Kennan said they would have to sit out six months from the time they file retirement papers. That would mean the earliest they could be back would be November.

Caldwell can't afford to wait that long, so he's trudging ahead.

But Christensen and Johnson were missing their most prominent returnee Tuesday -- three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne.

"Eighty-seven of the 88 are here. The only one absent is Reggie, which has not been unusual the last few years," Caldwell said. "These guys from Miami like working out together, and he's doing that."

Wayne's absence might not be a big deal. He led the NFL in receiving yards in 2007 and has caught at least 80 passes in each of the past four seasons. Plus, he knows the system and usually comes to training camp in shape.

Still, Caldwell would have liked to have seen Wayne in Indianapolis.

"We certainly would like to have everybody here because we think this is a place you can get better," he said.

While the Colts know what they have with Wayne, they're still trying to figure out how all those rookies fit in, and they're taking another long look at recently re-signed Ed Johnson. The 296-pound defensive tackle started all 16 games as a rookie in 2007 and the first game last year before being waived after an arrest on a drug possession charge.

Without Johnson, Indianapolis' run defense struggled. Two weeks ago, the Colts reunited with the run stuffer, adding another cog in the middle of the line to the two 300-pound tackles they drafted in April. The reason, Caldwell explained, wasn't necessarily because of a need.

"We felt Ed was out of work for about nine months, and he's taken a number of steps to get himself back on track," Caldwell said. "He's remorseful about the mistake he made, and we felt we should give him a second chance. We anticipate, if everything goes according to plan and he continues doing the things he's doing now, he should be able to help us out down the road."

Clearly, the biggest question is the coaching transition. For the first time in Manning's career, he will work with a new coordinator and a new offensive line coach, though both Metzelaars and Christensen are familiar with the system. Christensen has been with the Colts since 2002, Metzelaars since 2004.

That, Caldwell believes, will help things go smoothly.

"For the most part, I think the system is in place," he said. "So we've just got to move ahead and try to find ways to get better."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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