By Tom James
St. Louis — Bob Sanders wasn’t quite sure what to expect for his first game back as a starter at strong safety for the Indianapolis Colts.
Sanders had been sidelined since training camp after undergoing knee surgery last spring. After an extended rehabilitation process, and a relatively short return to a full practice regimen, the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year made his 2009 debut Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.
His work time was limited to about 25 total plays. But the postgame reviews from both Sanders and head coach Jim Caldwell were good.
“I thought that he was getting a good sense of things. I thought he moved around well. I thought he looked pretty good,” Caldwell said.
Sanders was credited with just one tackle in the game. But he made it count, a bone-jarring takedown of Rams workhorse running back Steven Jackson. The play garnered just two yards for Jackson. But it meant a lot to the Colts’ safety, who had not been involved in any real-game contact since last January’s AFC wild-card playoff loss to San Diego.
“That was the first hit that I’d had since last year. [Jackson] is big, fast and a strong [running] back. But everything looks good,” he said.
“It’s been a long since I’ve played in a game and not had any trouble. One of the coaches asked, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said no. I have been playing football a long time. So it is not nerve-racking. I was more excited than anything. It was about time that I started feeling good and was backing doing what I love to do.”
• Home away from home — Thanks to several busloads of Indianapolis fans who made the relatively short drive west, the Edward Jones Dome came pretty close to being a home game for the Colts.
“I’d like to say to the [fans] that did [make the trip over] and even the [Colts] fans that live [around St. Louis], thanks. The players really feed off of that. It used to be that way when I first [came to the Colts]. The Dolphins fans would always travel. And the Pittsburgh fans would travel. And the Packers fans. Those were the three teams that would travel,” Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning said.
“Even out in Arizona when we played [in the third week of the regular season] there was a lot of blue out there and a lot of Colts fans here [Sunday]. So just a thank you to the people that travel to come see us play. It’s a real boost to the players.”
• Injury list — While Sanders, cornerback Kelvin Hayden [hamstring] and offensive tackle Charlie Johnson [knee] all returned to the starting lineup for Indianapolis, the Colts did come out of the Rams game a bit dinged up.
Hayden suffered a sprained neck in the fourth quarter, although he said afterward that he thinks that he’ll be okay to play against the 49ers this week.
“The neck feels all right. I got a little stinger, but it is what it is,” he said.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne incurred a strained groin while rookie running back Donald Brown left the game with a sprained shoulder. Both injuries occurred in the second quarter.
Wayne was able to return to the game in the second half, but he saw limited playing time the rest of the day. Hank Baskett, signed earlier this season, saw his first extensive work at receiver in the second half. Baskett, who began the year with Philadelphia, hauled in a 5-yard pass which resulted in a first down.
Brown did not return, which allowed backup Chad Simpson to get his first extended playing time of the season.
Caldwell said that he wouldn’t have a complete report on the status of Hayden, Wayne or Brown until sometime later today.
“I’m not sure how extensive [Brown’s injury] is. I know he had a shoulder [injury] but hopefully he will be okay,” the Colts coach said.
Sitting out the St. Louis game were placekicker Adam Vinatieri (knee), cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee), guard Jamey Richard (illness), wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (knee) and cornerback Tim Jennings (calf).
Running back Mike Hart, offensive tackle Tony Ugoh and rookie quarterback Curtis Painter were the rest of the Colts’ pregame inactives. Painter, however, was designated as Indianapolis’ emergency quarterback.