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Manning sad now that James is gone

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (June 23, 2006) -- Peyton Manning was sorry to see running back Edgerrin James leave the Indianapolis Colts, but he's got an idea about how to bolster the running game.

"Everybody has been asking how the running game is going to be this year. I've told them I'm going to try to get involved in the running game more myself," the two-time MVP joked.

The not-so-nimble Manning said the scheme "might catch the defenses off guard."

"We'll see how that goes maybe early on in the season," he said.

Manning was visiting his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, to award an academic scholarship in his name, play in a fundraising golf event and meet with some of the college players.

James left the Colts as a free agent, lured to Arizona with a four-year, $30 million contract in March. James, Manning and receiver Marvin Harrison have been the core of the Colts' offense since 1999.

"It's been different when you'd had a guy behind you for seven years. You start to get accustomed to it. Edgerrin James has been one of the best teammates I've ever had in my entire football career," Manning said.

"We won't be teammates anymore, but we'll still be friends. But I'm sad about not being teammates anymore. That's kind of where the business side of the game comes into play. Arizona took great care of him, and I'm happy about that."

Manning said he liked the Colts' decision to draft Joseph Addai of LSU in the first round to help replace James.

"I'm biased toward Southeastern Conference players. I think he's been well battle-tested," Manning said. "He's going to be able to come in and help us. Dominic Rhodes will play as well, but everybody else is going to have to raise their level of play."

Manning appears to have no desire to leave Indianapolis, which made him the No. 1 draft pick in 1998.

"I've finished my eighth year. I'd like to finish out my career at Indianapolis. I always admire guys like my dad who played the majority of his career in one organization," Manning said. "It's pretty rare and hard to do it today, but that's my goal."

Losing teammates like James makes it difficult, he said.

"Edgerrin James was probably the most popular, but it's been Marcus Pollard for me, it's been Ken Dilger, Adam Meadows -- guys that I was good friends with off the field as well. You get to know them and get attached to them," Manning said.

And fans should not worry about Manning taking chances in the offseason that could lead to injuries.

When asked about Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident earlier this month, Manning said he does not snow ski, water ski or play pickup basketball to prevent the chance for injury.

"I feel like you have an obligation to your teammates, your coaches and the fans. These people that buy season tickets want to come see you play and want you to be out there. I feel an obligation to be out there," he said.

Manning said he's friends with Roethlisberger and left a get-well message for him.

"Everybody has immediately analyzed -- 'Did he have a license? Was he wearing a helmet?"' Manning said. "I'm thankful he's alive. I haven't got into the analysis of who's wrong, who's right."

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