News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 20, 2012

Colts look to stop top back

Tom James
Tribune-Star correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts get to face an old friend Sunday when Jacksonville visits Lucas Oil Stadium.

No, it’s not an ex-player.

Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, however, is a familiar adversary after becoming a major thorn in the side of the Indianapolis defense since entering the league in 2006.

Jones-Drew has rushed for 1,212 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and has scored nine touchdowns in 12 career games against Indianapolis. He has 13 overall TDs against the Colts (including three receiving touchdowns and one kickoff return).

The former UCLA standout has registered seven 100-yard rushing games (including four of the last five games) and posted three games in which he had 200 or more all-purpose yards. He set the Jacksonville single-game record with 303 all-purpose yards against the Colts on Dec. 10, 2006.

Jones-Drew also had 244 all-purpose yards against Indianapolis on Sept. 24, 2006. He is second all-time in rushing yards per game against the Colts. He is averaging 101 yards in 12 games, second only to former New York Jets running back Curtis Martin (109.7 yards in 15 games).

But there’s more. Colts outside linebacker Justin Hickman was a groomsman at the running back’s wedding in April. Jones-Drew and Hickman were UCLA teammates and were once roommates in college. Hickman had to leave the wedding reception early in order to return to Indianapolis in time for the start of spring workouts.

And then there’s the fact that Indianapolis free safety Antoine Bethea and Maurice Jones-Drew are close friends. They share the same agent, Adisa Bakari, and the two rivals often spent time together in the offseason.

Bethea often called and texted the Jaguars’ running back during his extended contract holdout, reminding him of the time he stood Jones-Drew up at the goal line during last year’s game in Jacksonville.

“[Bethea’s] a good dude. The whole time I was out, he was texting me, making sure I was ready. We have a great competitive spirit amongst us. That’s my man. It’s always good to go against him,” Jones-Drew said during a teleconference with Colts media Wednesday.

“It’s going to be a dogfight. It’s funny. Every Fourth of July we get together and go out and all I heard was how he stood me up on the goal line last year. That was good fuel to the fire. We know it’s going to be a dogfight. Their defense is playing fast right now. They’re running to the ball. Obviously with that new scheme, they’re getting that new pass rush again with [outside linebacker Dwight] Freeney and [outside linebacker Robert] Mathis on the edge. They’re doing a great job. These first couple of games have been very tough [for 0-2 Jacksonville]. We have another tough one against us this week.”

For his part, Bethea is ready for the challenge. The Colts’ Pro Bowl defensive back, though, wouldn’t have minded if Jones-Drew had extended his holdout for a few weeks longer.

“He had to do what’s best for him. I’m not happy to see him back but I’m happy to see him playing the game that he loves. The best to him,” he said. “We spent some time in the offseason together. We have the same agent. We’ll poke fun here and there. I don’t really want to poke too much fun this upcoming week so he can kind of take it easy a little bit. It’s all in fun and games.”

Bethea says there’s no real secret to tackling the hard-running Jones-Drew. Getting the job done is something else entirely.

“Short-guy, low gravity to the ground, compact. He runs hard. He just runs with a type of nasty. That’s how good backs run. It’s going to take 11 hats to the ball like every time we play. They’re going to give him the ball and he’s going to try and make it happen,” he said, agreeing with a recent Freeney description of trying to tackle Jones-Drew.

The Colts’ all-time sack leader had said that it was like trying to stop a bowling ball.

“He’s a couple bowling balls going down actually. It’s tough. Trying to tackle him one-on-one, that’s a task. One thing that we harp on this week is 11 guys got to get to the ball,” Bethea said.

• Pagano’s thoughts on Jones-Drew — While Indianapolis’ run defense has done a pretty good job of slowing down the likes of Chicago’s one-two punch of Matt Forte and Michael Bush, as well as Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, Colts coach Chuck Pagano knows that work gets a lot tougher Sunday when Jones-Drew — all 5 feet, 7 inches, 210 pounds — comes to town.

“Can’t see him. Can’t find him. He’s like a rolling ball of butcher knives running up through there. He’s got legs like tree trunks. It’s like two Sequoias, you know. I told our guys that if you try to hit this guy high and you don’t wrap up, you’ll bounce off him like BBs off a tin can,” Pagano said Wednesday.

“We have to gang-tackle this guy. But he’s strong as heck and he breaks a ton of tackles. He’s quick and he’s got good vision. I said the that basically the one thing that’s the same size on all these backs is their ankles. So if you wrap him up and you slide down and you get his ankles and you bring them together, you’ve got a good chance of bringing this guy down. But he’s just a physical, physical back. He’s got great talent. We’ve got another one this week that we have to tend to and do a great job gang-tackling him.”

• Roster moves — The Colts made some roster moves Tuesday. Indianapolis signed nose tackle Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and offensive tackle Tony Hills to the practice squad.

Jean-Baptiste (6-1, 337) was originally signed to the Baltimore Ravens practice squad as an undrafted free agent May 11 out of Baylor. He was waived Aug. 31.

Hills (6-5, 304) was originally selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round (130th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft. He saw action in five regular season games and one postseason game with the Steelers before being waived on September 3, 2011. He later signed with the Denver Broncos on Sept. 8, 2011. Hills saw action in one of the Broncos postseason games last season before he was waived on Aug. 31.

The Colts released defensive tackle Chigbo Anunoby and offensive tackle Darrion Weems from the practice squad. Indianapolis also released wide receiver Jabin Sambrano from the team’s injured reserve list.

• Injury list — Mike McGlynn is expected to work with the first offensive unit at center heading into Sunday’s game with Jacksonville. McGlynn had been the Colts starting right offensive guard but shifted over to center late in the second quarter of last week’s win over Minnesota due to a knee injury to starter Samson Satele. He has previous experience playing center in Philadelphia and Cincinnati.

Offensive guard Trai Essex will see work with the first offensive unit at right guard this week. Essex was signed early last week after beginning his career with the Steelers. He played most of the second half of last Sunday’s game with Minnesota before starter Mike McGlynn moved over to center.

Essex has been able to make a smooth quick transition to the Colts since he was familiar with the team’s offensive system and blocking schemes from his time in Pittsburgh, where he played for current Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin.

Satele (knee) received a positive MRI report on his left knee. Satele, who was hurt in the second quarter of last week’s game with Minnesota and did not return, was diagnosed as suffering from a bone bruise. Pagano is anticipating the veteran center being available to play against Jacksonville on Sunday although it’s not known whether he would start. He did not participate in Wednesday’s practice.

Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (ankle) did not take part in Wednesday’s workout. He remains listed as day-to-day. Freeney was hurt in the Colts’ opening game loss to Chicago and has not practiced since. While there have been reports that the injury might be a high ankle sprain, team officials have not yet made an announcement.

Wide receiver Austin Collie (concussion) fully practiced Wednesday. Collie was hurt in the second preseason game after taking a blow to the head against Pittsburgh. He initially was cleared to practice before the regular-season opener at Chicago but was a game-day inactive.

Collie practiced one day last week but was sidelined for the remainder of the week and did not play against Minnesota in the home opener. There has been no determination as to whether he will be available to play against Jacksonville on Sunday.

Offensive tackle Winston Justice (concussion) practiced Wednesday. Justice was hurt in the second half of the season opening loss at Chicago. He practiced most of last week but was a game-day inactive for last week’s home opener with Minnesota. A final decision on his availability for the Jacksonville game will be made later this week.

Defensive end Cory Redding (tricep) saw limited work in Wednesday’s practice. Redding is expected to start Sunday against Jacksonville.