Indianapolis Colts fans like to complain about the team’s usual lack of activity during the veteran free-agent shopping season.
Yes, the Colts have dipped into the market on occasion. But they’ve had only moderate success. For every Adam Vinatieri that the team has acquired, there have been some mighty big misses. Indianapolis struck out during the experiment with defensive tackle Corey Simon in the 2005 and 2006 seasons and had so-so returns from defensive tackle Booger McFarland in 2006 and 2007.
In fact, before this week’s acquisitions of linebacker Ernie Sims, defensive end/tackle Jamaal Anderson and defensive tackle Tommie Harris, the Colts haven’t been this active in the veteran free-agent market — in terms in the total number of player involved — since 1999.
That year, Indianapolis added defensive end Chad Bratzke and safety Chad Cota to a defense that needed a big shot in the arm.
The additions of Sims, Anderson and Harris — he joined the Colts on Tuesday night — could have a similar effect. All three have a lot to prove, though.
Sims and Anderson were thought to be classic underachievers in their previous stops (Sims in Detroit and Philadelphia, Anderson in Atlanta). Harris, meanwhile, earned three Pro Bowl appearances while battling knee injuries and attitude questions in Chicago.
In a sense, all three can be considered reclamations projects. The Colts view them as players getting fresh starts with an opportunity to re-start their respective NFL careers. They certainly have the pedigree — all three are former first-round draft picks (Sims, Detroit, 2006; Anderson, Atlanta, 2007; Harris, Chicago, 2004).
“It just so happens that we’ve been able to get some guys that we think can obviously help us quite a bit and guys with pretty good amount of experience as well. So we are happy to have them,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said Wednesday.
“[They are] guys that we really are excited about. We think we have a role for them to play within our system and we’ll see how things go through camp.”
Sims could have been with the Colts coming out of college. After earning All-America honors at Florida State, he was thought to be a perfect fit for the Indianapolis defensive system. Prior to the draft, Sims visited with Colts officials.
He went to the Lions instead, where he was coached by former Tony Dungy defensive assistant Rod Marinelli and became acclimated to the Tampa 2 defensive system.
“Everything happens for a reason. That’s what coach Caldwell and I talked about. Unfortunately, I wasn’t drafted here,” Sims said Wednesday. “I was drafted to the Detroit Lions and I have learned a lot since then. [Now] it turned out I am back in the place I need to be. I am going to make the best out of it. I am really excited.”
Harris also is a veteran of the Tampa 2 after playing for another Dungy disciple, Lovie Smith, with the Bears. The Colts know him well after facing Chicago in Super Bowl XLI.
“We had a chance to look at him, look at him closely, and he was a force. He’s a guy who has quickness and power and I don’t think there is any question about it; he’s going to help us,” Caldwell said, adding that Harris’ history of injuries doesn’t concern him.
“You know there are always so many different factors involved, but what we know is that he is familiar with our system, he’s been in our system, understands how it operates and he is a guy who can give you a little juice as well. So we are excited about having the opportunity to throw him out there on the field.”
As for Anderson, the former Arkansas standout is ready to put his Atlanta days behind him and move on.
“One thing, I’m here for a fresh start. Obviously it didn’t end the way I wanted to in Atlanta. I think I’m here with a great group of veterans that I’m here to learn under. I’m here under a great coach. They see something in me and that’s why I’m here,” he said Wednesday.
Drafted as a pass-rushing defensive end, Anderson has the ability to move inside to tackle. He’s been compared to former Colts backup defensive end Raheem Brock as a potential defensive-line swingman.
“I can play both. I’ve lost about 20 pounds since last season, so I don’t know how much they’re going to put me inside. I still feel like I have the mentality to play at tackle. So whatever they want me to play, whatever my role is, I’m ready for it.”
• Castonzo gets schooled early — It didn’t take rookie offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo long to figure out he’s a long way from Boston College.
After signing with the Colts on Tuesday morning, the team’s top draft pick took part in practice Tuesday afternoon. During a pass-rush drill, he lined up against Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney. He whiffed.
“As soon as I got drafted by the Colts, I was saying to myself that I’m not going to let him beat me on a spin move my first time against him. And what does he do but beat me on a spin move my first time against him,” Castonzo laughed, shaking his head.
“I’ve definitely got a lot to learn. I look forward to going against him each day in practice. [The speed of the NFL game] is definitely faster. Hopefully, I’ll get used to that.”
• Big year for Gonzalez? — Coming off a 2010 season in which he struggled with a season-ending knee injury, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez knows that this season could prove crucial if he wants to stay in Indianapolis for an extended period of time.
Gonzalez, who has battled injuries most of his NFL career, is entering the final year of his contract. He needs to have a productive season in order to prove to Colts officials, and the rest of the league, that he is a dependable receiver.
“This is a big opportunity. This is maybe one of my last opportunities. That’s probably a real thought,” Gonzalez said Wednesday. “But, honestly, more than that, I just want to be on the field with my teammates. That’s it. I just want to be out there fighting with them, helping them win games. That’s what I’ve missed the last two years. That’s by far the most disappointing thing.”