Sunday, February 4, 2007

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Joseph Addai never rushed for 1,000 yards in any of his four seasons at LSU, but the rookie burst into the NFL with 1,081 yards for Indianapolis this year. And when the Colts had a first down at the New England Patriots’ 11-yard line with two minutes left in the AFC Championship game, Peyton Manning handed the ball to Addai three straight times to produce the touchdown that put them in Super Bowl XLI tonight against the Chicago Bears.

That reliance on the run is a testament to the Colts’ faith in Addai, who along with holdover Dominic Rhodes, has more than made up for the loss of standout running back Edgerrin James to free agency last March.

“Edgerrin gave us seven years of great football,” Colts running backs coach Gene Huey said. “Watching the film of all the top backs in the draft, Joseph most resembled Edgerrin. Joseph has a great suddenness to him. His lateral step and getting back north and south are very, very good. There’s nothing wasted. He has great vision, good acceleration out of cuts and a burst that will leave you sitting there. He’s an instinctive runner, very good speed and the power to finish runs. Joseph is also good in pass protection, which is very critical on our offense. And he wasn’t a ‘Come See Me’ type of guy, who alternated at LSU, which he was maybe going to have do for us, too.”

No wonder T-shirts appeared this week bearing Addai’s photo and the slogan “Not Your Average Joe.” All proceeds will go toward youth programs. But that’s not Addai’s only charitable endeavor. He is also helping take care of Lajuan Moore, his close friend and teammate from Houston’s Sharpstown High School who was paralyzed while making a tackle during their junior year.

“LaJuan will always be there for me, so I’m doing the same for him,” said Addai, who talks to Moore every day and flew him down to Miami on Friday. “He’s always joking and having fun. Our relationship got stronger after he got hurt. I think about him when I play because I know he would’ve loved to be in my situation. He was an outstanding safety who could’ve played on the college level.”

Rhodes, who filled in admirably with his own 1,000-yard season as a rookie when James was hurt in 2001, was the starter all throughout this season, although Addai wound up with 39 more carries, 440 more yards and two more touchdowns. Addai was the NFL’s only rookie to rush for 1,000 yards.

“Of course, every running back wants to be the guy, but I didn’t have a lot of pressure on me to replace Edgerrin because it was on me and Dom both,” Addai said. “I didn’t think I was going to get 1,000 yards. It’s been very helpful watching Dom and trying to get feedback from him. Without him, I don’t think I would’ve had the season I’ve had. We’re not that different from each other as backs. I’m a little faster, but Dom can make anybody miss in the open field more than I can. Starting doesn’t matter that much.”

But when the playoffs began, Huey turned to Addai as his starter.

“It was just a little change up,” Huey said. “Everybody wants to see the new baby do well, but we have an older sibling we know can do well, too. Joseph’s a No. 1 pick who we have a lot of money invested in [unlike free agent-to-be Rhodes]. He did a lot of the red zone work when Dominic was starting.”

Rhodes, who knew the Colts would draft competition for him once James left, wasn’t upset about the changed roles.

“It’s about the team, not me,” said Rhodes, who has 41 carries to 57 for Addai in postseason and carried on 10 of the final 12 plays in the divisional round upset at Baltimore. “This is what the coaches think we have to do win the championship.”

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