Bill Polian opened up a can of worms when he said the following at this year's Combine: "Marlin is coming along fine, we anticipate that he will be PUP, I think Bob will be PUP to start the camp period. Beyond that I don't have anybody that I can tell you for sure that is in that boat, and we didn't get any information that would indicate that there's anything on the horizon that's troublesome ... Mike is going to be close. He's coming along fine, but he's going to be close, whether he's PUP [for camp] is up in the air at this point."
Here are five players to watch that are returning from injury:
Bob Sanders: Sanders is one of the premier defenders in the NFL, when healthy. The "when healthy" addendum has dogged Sanders since he came into the league. He went a long way towards dispelling that addendum in 2007 when he was named Defensive Player of the Year, but promptly missed ten games in 2008 following a September knee surgery and followed that up by having shoulder surgery in 2009.
The hard-hitting Sanders will open camp on the PUP list
He did not practice at the public mini-camp at Franklin College and as Polian hinted at back at the Combine, will indeed enter training camp on the PUP list. Although Sanders has proven that, for him, practice and repetitions are overrated, it remains to be seen how much punishment his body can take, given how he plays the game. In all likelihood, the Colts will take it easy on him throughout camp and the preseason, saying that he is nursing nagging injuries and he will open the regular season at strong safety after a brief ramp-up.
One would have to assume that he would return to the line-up with his knee and shoulder whole and fully recovered, but one also never knows when it comes to Bob Sanders.
Marlin Jackson: It has been reported that Jackson has progressed faster than expected during OTAs, with Jackson even taking part in some running drills, but he will open camp on the PUP list, as Polian anticipated. He also did not practice at the public mini-camp at Franklin College, but there are a lot players that fall under that category, including another man on this list. While it is encouraging that Jackson is up and running, it takes a player at his position longer to recover from a severe knee injury than, say, a quarterback, since he needs to be able to pivot, move, and head in a given direction at full speed.
It's true that the Colts didn't suffer a serious dropoff in pass defense with Jackson out of the lineup, but it's also true that they are a better defense with a healthy Jackson at cornerback. His recovery and how he responds warrants watching throughout camp and the preseason, heading into the 2009 season.
Lilja needs to show he's still worth his big contract
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Ryan Lilja: Lilja signed a five year, $19 million contract in February of 2008, opened the season on the PUP list, and was deemed unready to play for the 2008 season. He returned healthy for the 2009 offseason and has looked good in OTAs and mini-camps, but the landscape has changed considerably at the position.
Mike Pollak and Charlie Johnson played effectively at the guard position last season and then rookies Jamey Richard and Steve Justice saw time along the interior as well. All of those players are used to contributing and used to suiting up with the intention to play on Sundays.
Lilja will now have to fight off a number of experienced young players that are not recovering from injury. Does he have it in him? Did Indianapolis make a mistake by rewarding him with a contract extension instead of Jake Scott? How will the starting offensive line shake out in 2009? These are all questions that need to be answered and why Lilja is on this list, since it is up to him and his performance to answer them. It's a good sign that Lilja is on the regular roster to begin camp, as he'll have his hands full fighting off those that want his spot.
Mike Hart: Hart turned a lot of heads and earned a lot of deserved buzz with his performances in mini-camps, OTAs, training camp, and the preseason in 2008. Unfortunately, he injured his knee and missed all of last season. Indianapolis thought enough of the young man to keep him around, but does he have a repeat performance in him?
He was another player that did not practice at Franklin College, so it's possible that he will not enter camp healthy and ready to go. If he's not ready to go, can Indianapolis wait another year? If he does return, will he return whole and ready to build on what he started last offseason? Will he be healthy enough and will he stay healthy enough to stay on the roster in 2009? These are all questions that linger heading into the upcoming season and questions that only Hart can answer.
Joseph Addai: Addai missed four games in 2008 and had knee surgery in the offseason. He did not participate in practices during the mini-camps and OTAs and the team is being very secretive regarding the exact dates and circumstances of the surgery. Even though Indianapolis is confident that Addai will be ready for the start of training camp, that still doesn't dispel the cloud of doubt that is hanging over him heading into the 2009 season.
He has only missed five games during the course of his career, but has missed a good deal of time during games and has missed his fair share of practices with nagging injuries. Add to all that the fact that Donald Brown will be heavily in the mix and Hart will be returning from an injury of his own, and Addai will need to be in top form if he is going to win his fair share of carries in 2009.
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