ANDERSON – Rarely do the Indianapolis Colts spend money on free agents. They prefer to grow their own talent.
Sometimes, necessity calls.
That's why Deshea Townsend, previously a lifelong Pittsburgh Steeler, is on the Anderson University practice field, lining up at cornerback for the Colts in a blue No. 23 jersey.
“It's always great to be wanted,” Townsend said. “Coach (Jim) Caldwell and Mr. (Bill) Polian laid it out that ‘We have some young guys here who need some experience. Do you want the opportunity to come and share what it's all about, share some experience with these guys, show them it's important to care about defense and do it right?' ”
Townsend, 34, unceremoniously discarded by the Steelers after 12 years with the team, didn't need much persuading. He accepted the chance to join the Colts in an area where they have some distinct youth and distinct need for depth.
If it's healthy, the Colts' secondary should be a good one. It includes former Pro Bowl players Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea and experienced Sanders replacement Melvin Bullitt at safeties, and veteran Kelvin Hayden and second-year players Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey at corners.
Where does Townsend fit? He's most likely to fill the role of fifth defensive back in the nickel package, replacing the departed Tim Jennings. But he also has the ability to play anywhere needed, and the savvy to do it well.
“I'm here to play, most definitely,” Townsend said. “I'm competing, but I want to make sure the team is getting better if I'm not playing. … I'm looking to win a championship. There's no sense to be out in the heat running around if you're not doing it to win a championship.”
Townsend has already been welcomed into the secondary fold with open arms. Powers told Townsend he was 11 years old when Townsend was a rookie, and that he had admired him when Townsend was starring at Alabama in college.
Sanders, only five years younger, said he still made it a point to talk defense with Townsend even before they took the field at training camp. Townsend has 21 career interceptions, including a season high of four in 2004.
“He brings veteran leadership, definitely, and he's a great player,” Sanders said. “He's in his 13th year and he's made a lot of great plays. He's been on one team and that shows he has consistent play and he's a hard worker.
“I've sat down with him several times to try and pick his brain and see what kind of player he is, and I'm sure the younger guys are as well.”
Powers said Townsend's experience in winning Super Bowls with the Steelers makes him even more valuable as a leader.
Peyton Manning praised Townsend's abilities and joked that it's always good to add another “SEC player” to the mix.
Townsend said he believes he'll adapt quickly to Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer's system.
“They're doing some aggressive things similar to what we did in Pittsburgh,” Townsend said. “I've been at it awhile, so some things that we did over there, I'll definitely share. If it helps us, it does. If not, we can throw it out.”
Townsend entered the league the same year as Manning. He doesn't feel old, he said, but the veteran label clearly applies.
“I most definitely want to play,” he said. “I'm here to work myself into good shape, to let the coaches know I'm available and ready to play, and to compete to make our team better.”