- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2011

ANDERSON, IND. (AP) - Curtis Painter spent his first two NFL training camps serving as the Colts' apprentice quarterback.

Now he’s ready to go out on his own.

With Peyton Manning still recuperating from neck surgery, the not-so-familiar backup is getting a chance to play the role of starter, albeit temporarily, and that’s just fine with the Indiana native and Purdue grad who is living out his dream.

“It’s such a great opportunity,” Painter said after leading the Colts through their first practice Monday morning. “It’s a chance to get reps and prove myself, to show what I’ve learned and show people where I’m at.”

Painter didn’t get an opportunity to show much during the light, one-hour walkthrough.

A crowd of about 1,000 watched Painter hand off more than he threw. The regimen changed in the two-hour afternoon workout where players were in shorts and helmets: Painter threw a nifty pass that Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne along the sideline, drawing cheers from fans attending the workout at Anderson University, 40 miles northeast of the team complex, cheered loudly.

And obviously, fans are anxious about life without Manning.

Behind Manning, the Colts have gone from perennial also-ran to perennial Super Bowl contender. Without him, nobody knows what to expect.

Manning has started 227 consecutive regular-season and playoff game since entering the NFL in 1998, the league’s second-longest streak among quarterbacks. While his durability has been good for the Colts, that’s not necessarily the case for his backups who have rarely gotten a chance to prove themselves, on Sundays or in practice.

Painter is one of the lucky ones.

The problem: He hasn’t come close to playing at Manning’s level.

Painter’s NFL debut, in December 2009, is best remembered for the home crowd’s boos following a sack-fumble that the Jets returned for a touchdown. New York eventually rallied for a 29-15 victory, ruining the Colts' shot at a perfect season. The next week at Buffalo, Painter relieved Manning again and wasn’t any better in a 30-7 loss.

He hasn’t played in a meaningful game since, leaving his career stat line a dismal 8 of 28 for 83 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a quarterback rating of 9.8.

That’s caused consternation among Colts fans who think the team needs a veteran quarterback in case Manning isn’t ready for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at Houston.

Painter’s teammates disagree.

Story Continues →