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James' unique style took him on Hall of Fame journey

James' unique style took him on Hall of Fame journey

INDIANAPOLIS — Edgerrin James took pride in exceeding his standards — and ignoring everyone else’s.It made him a perfect complementary piece to Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison in Indianapolis.The man drafted fourth overall in 1999 — ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams and as the hand-picked replacement for Marshall Faulk — carved out his own Hall of Fame career with a gritty work ethic, a freewheeling personality, and a commitment to stay true to his roots.“I figured out you could still be yourself and accomplish what you wanted to do,” he said recently while preparing to finally give his induction speech next week after a year-long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I didn’t have to put on a silly face or a hat, I found that you could be successful and still be yourself.”When he arrived in Indy, many weren’t sure what to make of the guy with dreadlocks and gold teeth — or how he would be fit in the locker room.Harrison was a quiet perfectionist. Manning was the vocal, unwavering leader. James, meanwhile, dropped light-hearted one-liners almost on command, bringing laughter to a locker room full of focused, emerging stars.James once said he hoped to be a tourist when his playing days ended and later downplayed his absence from offseason voluntary workouts by explaining he understood the difference between voluntary and mandatory.But football was James’ top priority and nothing deterred him from improving his craft.“As long as he was a good player or a good teammate, I didn’t care how he came across to the media,” said Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian, who drafted James. “I cared about how he did his job and he always did his job. He did it in incredible fashion.”In 11 seasons with the Colts, Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks, James logged 3,028 carries and 12,246 yards. He caught 433 passes for 3,364 yards receiving and scored 91 career touchdowns, tied for No. 31 overall. He won two league rushing titles, the 1999 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, was a two-time All-Pro, a four-time Pro Bowler and a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.While he never played in a Super Bowl with the Colts, he was part of Arizona’s 2008 NFC championship team. Colts owner Jim Irsay sent James a ring from Indy’s Super Bowl-winning 2006 team — after the third member of Indy’s vaunted triplets left in free agency following the 2005 season.“You respect it and appreciate it because they didn’t have to do that,” James said. “I was still part of the team. It was just business and you go about your business. As far as the Colts, that’s home. They’re the one that brought me in and to me it’s still home.”The circus-like catches and nifty runs made the highlights, but James contributed in less noticeable ways, too.He took the lessons he learned in Immokalee, Florida and combined them with the pass-blocking sessions he attended at the University of Miami and became one of the league’s best protectors. Manning never forgot.“I’m going to his party (next) Saturday night because he’s one of my favorite teammates of all-time,” Manning said during preparation for his own induction ceremony.James’ long journey began at the local public high school where the powerhouse Hurricanes found him. At Miami, he primarily shared carries until his breakthrough moment in early December 1998: 39 attempts, 299 yards and the winning score in an upset of No. 3 UCLA.Suddenly, James was ascending on NFL draft boards and making impressions.“He was special from the beginning,” said Irsay, who will introduce James in Canton, Ohio. “It’s not what they say or even how they say it or how they look or how they dress. It’s that feeling you get when you’re in a room with someone like that, a special person who is going to do special things.”After going 3-13 in 1997 and 1998, Polian figured with three quarterbacks slotted ahead of the Colts in the draft it gave him a chance to trade the disgruntled Faulk, select his replacement and collect additional picks.Most expected the Colts to take Williams or trade the pick to New Orleans for all six of its selections. Instead, Polian threw a curveball by selecting James.“He had superior acceleration in the hole, superior ability to block, superior ability in the passing game to run routes and make people miss,” Polian said. “I thought Ricky was more of a downhill power runner and didn’t fit what we did necessarily.”Irate Colts fans threatened to boycott the tea. A 20-day holdout that Polian thought might set back James’ progression didn’t help.James didn’t care.He stayed in shape and in contact with Manning and opened the regular season with back-to-back 100-yard games. James finished the season with a league-high 1,553 yards rushing as the Colts capped a record-breaking single-season 10-win turnaround with a playoff trip.Nobody questioned James’ skills again until he tore the ACL in his left knee in 2001. Knowing the injury had ruined the careers of other running backs, James was intent on not letting it derail him, and committed himself to learning the finer points of the game.“It made me a better player because when I was young, I was just running. Just give me the ball and I’ve got this,” he said. “But when I got hurt, I had to learn the game of football a whole lot better, which now allows me to teach it to my son.”He topped the 1,000-yard mark in five of the next six seasons before finishing his career in Seattle in 2009, with one final appearance in Indy that season. When James’ highlights played that October day, the sellout crowd roared for the man who helped make football as fashionable in Indianapolis as it was in Florida.“I appreciate every time I put the ball in that hand and was able to do what I was blessed to do,” he said. “Just to be in the NFL and able to play the same game I did as a youth football player, that’s the thing that stands out. I was able to play the game and keep it going.”———More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP—NFL

Positive COVID test keeps Colts coach out for start of camp

Positive COVID test keeps Colts coach out for start of camp

Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich will miss the start of training camp after testing positive for COVID-19By MICHAEL MAROT AP Sports WriterJuly 26, 2021, 7:20 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWESTFIELD, Ind. — Indianapolis Colts fans eagerly anticipated seeing coach Frank Reich and new starting quarterback Carson Wentz reunite Wednesday.Turns out, they’ll may need to wait a few more days.General manager Chris Ballard announced Monday that Reich is expected to miss the start of training camp after testing positive for COVID-19 late last week. Ballard believes Reich could return to the field early next week and said the fourth-year coach will participate in video calls with players and staff while out.“I’m excited for training camp, however, I’m disappointed I won’t be there with the team as we start,” Reich said in a statement. “I’m fortunate to be fully vaccinated, and I’m asymptomatic. I’m feeling well, and I’m looking forward to returning as soon as I’m medically cleared.”NFL rules allow vaccinated people to return to the field after two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.Reich’s initial test results came back late last week.Instead of appointing an interim coach, the Colts plan to split duties between new offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone, with Ventrone expected to take on a greater workload because of the time commitments for other coaches.Colts players are scheduled to report to camp in suburban Indianapolis on Tuesday. The first of 19 practices is scheduled to be held Wednesday — in front of fans for the first time since 2019 — and most likely without Reich.“I don’t want this to turn out to be a negative in terms of people running away from getting vaccinated, because it’s still critical,” Ballard said. “I think with Frank testing positive and getting COVID, and having no symptoms, it shows it (the vaccine) works.”The announcement comes less than a week after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell informed teams canceled games may not be rescheduled this season, and if games are called off because of outbreaks among unvaccinated players, they could result in forfeits.Indianapolis has reportedly had one of the lower vaccination rates among players, though Ballard said the numbers have increased recently and more than 60% of Colts players now have received at least one vaccination shot. Unvaccinated players, he said, will be required to socially distance and wear masks and could face disciplinary action if they do not comply.“We’ve got to protect the team, we’ve got to keep them safe,” Ballard said. “We have a tremendous group and they want to win, so I know they’ll follow the protocols. They did an incredible job following the protocols last year.”Wentz is Indy’s biggest offseason addition. He spent his first two seasons working with Reich in Philadelphia, but Wentz’s once-promising career was derailed by the worst season of his career last year. He was benched for the final four games and was eventually traded in March.Indy believes the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft can revive his career in a new city, with a stronger supporting cast and working with a familiar coach.But Reich won’t be the only missing piece when workouts kick off in suburban Indianapolis.Two-time All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard will be held out after having ankle surgery in early June. Ballard said Leonard should be ready for the Sept. 12 season opener against Seattle.Left tackle Eric Fisher, a two-time Pro Bowler and the projected replacement for Anthony Castonzo, went on the physically unable to perform list Sunday, and defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo, Indy’s second-round draft pick in April, was placed on the non-football injury list. Both are recovering from Achilles tendon injuries sustained in January and aren’t expected to be available for games until October.Second-year defensive tackle Rob Windsor also recently had season-ending hip surgery and went on injured reserve.Ballard doesn’t expect injuries or Reich’s absence to change the training camp game plan.“We’re going to get after it, we have to get after it,” he said. “We’re young and I think sometimes people forget that. I’d almost bet that when we get to the 53-man cutdown we’ll be one of the younger teams in the league. So we have to get after it.”———More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP—NFL

Carlisle takes over Pacers for 2nd time after leaving Mavs

Carlisle takes over Pacers for 2nd time after leaving Mavs

INDIANAPOLIS — When Kevin Pritchard hired a new coach in October, he took a calculated risk. This time, the Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations went for the known commodity.Pritchard hired longtime Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle on Thursday, reuniting the 61-year-old with the team that helped relaunch his head coaching career almost two decades ago.“Rick is a proven winner with a championship and will be a Hall of Fame coach,” Pritchard said in a statement. “He has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to build something with sustainable success. He has great respect for our franchise and our fans from his previous times here. We are very happy to welcome him back to Indiana.”Clearly, the Pacers believe Carlisle can bring stability to a veteran team that battled a severe rash of injuries last season. The result was a losing record and their first playoff absence in six years.Carlisle will get a chance to make a quick fix with the same organization he led from 2003-07 and took to the Eastern Conference finals in his first season with the team.This time, he becomes the third Pacers coach in less than 12 months.Nate McMillan was fired in August following his fourth straight first-round playoff exit, just weeks after signing a contract extension. His replacement, Nate Bjorkgren, lasted one tumultuous season in his first NBA head coaching gig.“I wanted to take a risk,” Pritchard said while announcing Bjorkgren’s firing June 9. “I wanted to take a chance and have something that had a lower floor but a higher ceiling. This year, maybe it’s skewed down and we look at something a little bit different.”The Pacers know exactly what they’re getting in Carlisle — a disciplined, details-oriented, old-school coach who spent three seasons as Larry Bird’s assistant during the most successful era in franchise history. Those traits could help the Pacers defense, which allowed 115.3 points per game and was ranked 25th last season.The bigger question might be whether Carlisle is the right fit.After an embarrassing season-ending loss to Washington in the play-in round, Pritchard acknowledged Pacers players described Bjorkgren as a micromanager in end-of-season interviews. The problems even spilled into public view during an in-game shouting match between backup center Goga Bitadze and assistant coach Greg Foster amid reports of locker-room drama.Carlisle had similar issues in his 13th and final season in Dallas.Two-time All-Star Luka Doncic occasionally showed his anger by making animated gestures toward the coach during games and there were reports of “simmering tension” between the two before Carlisle resigned last week. Team owner Mark Cuban said Carlisle made the decision to leave, one day after general manager Donnie Nelson also left.With all five starters under contract, Pritchard believes the Pacers can contend quickly — with a healthy roster, a stronger defense and better coaching. He also wants to see more leadership from the players.“We’ve got a decent team and we’re trying to go to good, and those players will give us some feedback,” Pritchard said two weeks ago. “You’ve got to push players. You’ve got to get them to be their best. That’s what great coaches do. Individually, I really like the locker room. During exit meetings, I was probably as hard as I’ve ever been on a group that someone has to be a vocal leader. Right now, I’m not sure who that is.”Carlisle is 836-689 overall with the Pacers, Pistons and Mavs. He went 555-478 and led Dallas to its only NBA championship in 2010-11 with superstar Dirk Nowitzki, becoming the winningest coach in franchise history. But after making the title run, Carlisle didn’t win another playoff series.The Mavericks lost in the first round six times, including this year and last year to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first two postseason appearances for Doncic.Cuban had said he expected Carlisle to return next season. But after the departure of Nelson, who once called Carlisle “our Jerry Sloan,” Carlisle opted for a fresh start and landed in a familiar place.“My sincere thanks to (Pacers owner) Herb Simon, Kevin Pritchard and the entire Pacers organization for the opportunity to come back to basketball’s heartland,” Carlisle said. “My wife, Donna, daughter, Abby, and I are truly grateful.”Carlisle spent three seasons as Bird’s assistant before taking the Detroit Pistons job in 2001. He was the 2001-02 NBA coach of the year. Two years later, Indiana hired Carlisle, who went 181-147 in four seasons .He also played five seasons in the NBA, winning a championship in 1985-86 as Bird’s teammate with the Boston Celtics. Following the end of his career in 1989, Carlisle spent the next decade bouncing around as an assistant before getting his big break in Detroit.———AP Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed.———More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports