Indianapolis’ RBs leave doubts about ground game in dust


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – No Edge? No problem.

The Indianapolis Colts began the season with questions about their ground game after star running back Edgerrin James signed with the Arizona Cardinals. The Colts enter the AFC championship game Sunday with two very good answers – veteran Dominic Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai.

The duo combined for 285 yards rushing in the Colts’ first two playoff games to offset subpar performances by quarterback Peyton Manning. The Colts likely will need more of the same from the tandem to beat the New England Patriots and finally reach the Super Bowl.

“They have worked together very well,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “They’re really interchangeable parts. We run the same plays for both guys. When one gets winded, the other one is going in, no matter how the rotation goes. We have confidence in both guys and that’s big this time of year.”

James left as the Colts’ all-time leading rusher with 9,226 yards in seven seasons, but Rhodes and Addai have adequately filled in.

Addai ran for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns during the regular season. He burst onto the national scene by running for 171 yards and scoring four touchdowns in a Sunday night win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 26.

Rhodes, who waited patiently for years as James’ backup, ran for 641 yards.

and five touchdowns in the regular season.

New England coach Bill Belichick is impressed with both.

“They’re quick, they’re strong, they break tackles, they have good run vision,” he said. “They’re good all-around quality backs. Whichever guy is in there, I think they (the Colts) can do whatever they want to do.”

Rhodes said it’s a testament to the franchise, from team president Bill Polian on down, that it can lose a player of James’ caliber and be right back in the championship hunt the next year.

“It tells you what kind of organization we’ve built here,” Rhodes said. “Mr. Polian and coach Dungy, all our coaches – you’ve got to take your hat off to them. We have winners here. We put guys in positions to make plays.”

Rhodes has been the steady veteran who has accepted whatever role he’s been given in his six years as a Colt. When James tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 6 of the 2001 season, Rhodes responded by rushing for 1,104 yards, an NFL record for undrafted rookies. Rhodes missed the 2002 season when he injured his right knee and had shoulder surgery in 2004.

Rhodes started every game during the regular season, but now is Addai’s backup. Rhodes said he doesn’t mind.

“They asked me to come off the bench and produce, so that’s what I’m going to do,” Rhodes said. “Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do because I’m in the business of winning a championship and helping my team.”

Rhodes did his part late in the second-round win against Baltimore. Indianapolis clinched the 15-6 win with a 13-play, 47-yard drive that included 11 runs and took more than 7 minutes off the clock. The possession ended with Adam Vinatieri’s 35-yard field goal with 23 seconds left that sent the Colts into Sunday’s game.

Rhodes had 10 carries for 35 yards on the drive.

“It was fun to have the chance to, I’ll say, carry my team on my shoulders on that last drive,” Rhodes said. “You don’t get those opportunities very often. When you do get them, you’ve got to savor them.”

He also savors helping Addai grow into a complete NFL back.

“Me and Joseph’s relationship is great,” Rhodes said. “I love teaching him the game because he’s going to keep this thing going even when I’m done playing. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what makes this league great is older guys teaching younger guys.”

Rhodes sees greatness in Addai because of his talent, humility and poise.

“He’s a very smart player and a determined player,” Rhodes said. “You don’t get very many guys that aren’t thinking they know everything. He’s trying to learn. Every time I tell him something, he’s like, ‘All right, man.”‘

Dungy has said Rhodes has handled the platoon situation well since the beginning. Rhodes said it’s just part of being a professional.

“It’s not life or death, it’s football,” he said. “I love this game, but I’m not going to hate somebody because they’re getting my position.”

AP-ES-01-18-07 1647EST