By GEORGE BREMER
Rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner was the last member of the Indianapolis Colts to walk off the field at Macholtz Stadium on Friday morning.
The first-round pick out of Florida State lingered by the fence, signing autographs for some of the hardcore fans who had sat through the final practice of training camp.
After hopping on a cart and taking a short ride to meet the media, Werner couldn’t stop smiling. He said his first professional training camp had gone even better than he expected, and he can’t wait to make his preseason NFL debut on Sunday against the New York Giants.
“I was so anxious last week to play (in the opener against Buffalo), but then it was like a game-time decision (to sit out), and now I just can’t wait to get out there and finally play again,” he said. “It’s my first game in a long time. I’m really excited.”
Werner’s optimism seemed right at home on another sun-drenched day at Anderson University. The weather was perfect throughout the three-week practice schedule, and more than 37,000 fans attended at least one of the 15 public workouts.
Friday’s practice ended early after veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri made a 51-yard field goal with his teammates gathered behind him. The kick split the uprights nearly right down the middle and sent the Colts into a burst of celebration.
“It’s awesome when Vinny makes field goals to win games or send us home in the right way,” quarterback Andrew Luck said. “We’ll miss Anderson. It’s always good to us up here. We get great work up here. But, yeah, it’s a good end to camp to have Vinny kick that field goal.”
Luck completed 15 of 20 passes in the final practice of his second training camp. With veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne taking the day off to rest, Darrius Heyward-Bey was the quarterback’s favorite target with five receptions.
Second-year wide receiver T.Y. Hilton — the star of this year’s camp — made three grabs, and tight end Coby Fleener had two catches including Luck’s only touchdown toss.
Safety Delano Howell, who made a name for himself with a solid performance in the preseason loss to Buffalo, intercepted Luck on a fade pattern in the end zone.
It was an otherwise quiet practice as Indianapolis finished up preparations for Sunday’s second preseason outing.
“I thought we made progress, and I thought we got a lot out of this camp,” head coach Chuck Pagano said. “Obviously, from Game 1 to Game 2, we are looking forward to playing on a national stage on Sunday night in New York, and we will just see how far we came progress-wise.”
The roster slowly is getting healthier. Two starters — safety LaRon Landry and tight end Dwayne Allen — likely will not play Sunday, and linebacker Pat Angerer and running back Ahmad Bradshaw will wait at least one more week to make their preseason debuts.
But there was encouraging news on the injury front. Allen showed up for the morning practice without the boot he’d been wearing on his right foot since injuring it during the Aug. 6 night practice. Pagano said the second-year tight end is wearing an orthotic in his shoe and will switch back and forth between that and the walking boot.
“He is just day-to-day, and he is trending and progressing in the right direction,” Pagano said. “So hopefully we get him back sooner than later.”
Injuries took their toll throughout camp — especially along the offensive line where rookies Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes worked less than a week each — and the most important goal for the Colts before the Sept. 8 regular season opener against Oakland is getting back to full strength.
Luck said even though the Anderson University portion of preseason practice is ending, his mindset won’t change.
“I still view it as training camp, really,” he said of the team’s upcoming return to its year-round facility in Indianapolis. “Once we start focusing on Oakland, the mental shift might happen there. But until then it’s still training camp, it’s still that focus.”