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The consensus in Colts camp after the first practice Monday morning was that the addition of veteran CB Deshea Townsend, who signed with the club just one day before camp opened, and return of former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders, who has been limited to just eight games in the past two seasons because of ankle, knee and biceps injuries, will vastly improve the Colts' secondary.
"Deshea is a great player that will provide real veteran leadership," said Sanders. "The reason he has been with one team for so long is because he is so consistent."
The Colts could use some consistency in the secondary. They played very well in 2009 but were decimated by injuries throughout the season. CB Kelvin Hayden and former Colts CB Marlin Jackson made just eight starts combined, forcing rookies Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey into starting roles.
Powers and Hayden enter the season as starters, with Townsend expected to be the nickel back.
"I'm looking to play, but my main goal is to win a championship," said Townsend. "I plan on letting the coaches know I'm available and ready."
Townsend, 34, joins the Colts after 12 seasons in Pittsburgh. He brings with him a résumé that includes 15½ sacks, 21 interceptions and two Super Bowl appearances. The oldest cornerback on the roster after him is 27-year-old Hayden.
"It's good to be old," Townsend said with a smile. "A lot of guys want to get to this point. ... I just want to set a good example by working hard. It's all about hard work."
While the depth at the CB position has been upgraded, the safeties are looking forward to an upgrade of their own by welcoming back Sanders.
"I'm as healthy as I've been in a long time," Sanders said. "I'm looking forward to staying healthy, getting better and fighting for a position. … Guys have done a great job filling in."
SS Melvin Bullitt did indeed perform very well in Sanders' absence last season. The speedy playmaker is talented enough to start on several NFL teams. Head coach Jim Caldwell said Monday he has packages that will get Sanders, Bullitt and Pro Bowl FS Antoine Bethea all on the field at once.
Sanders likes the idea and stresses he has no plans to change his style of play — some feel his violent, reckless approach is a big part of the reason why he has been unable to stay on the field.
"I'm going to play the way I've always played. I know the defense. I want to be in the right position to make plays. … I don't believe in jinxes."
If the Colts' secondary can avoid the injury jinx this season, they could boast one of the better playmaking units in the league. When paired with their dynamic pass rush, the "D," under second-year coordinator Larry Coyer, could take another big step this season.
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