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Sanders returns to practice for first time since surgery

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Super Bowl champions finally have their
top defensive playmaker back on the field.

Former Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders, a key to last season's
dramatic playoff turnaround for the Indianapolis Colts defense,
practiced Wednesday for the first time since having offseason
surgery on his left shoulder.

Sanders had been on the physically unable to perform list since
the Colts opened training camp and had been limited to conditioning
work.

"I feel strong, I feel fast, and I'm ready to go," Sanders
said before Wednesday's workout.

Sanders is the Colts' biggest hitter and teammates credit him
with bringing a more aggressive attitude to the defense, a
difference that helped revitalize the team's defense during the
2006 playoffs.

He started only four games in the regular season when the Colts
ranked last in the league against the run. When Sanders returned in
the postseason, the Colts responded by limiting Kansas City's Larry Johnson to 32 yards on 13 carries and held Baltimore without a
touchdown.

"He's a big part of this defense," three-time Pro Bowl
defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "We saw him for only four games
last year, and he brings a lot to this defense. He really does make
a difference."

For three weeks Sanders said he felt good enough to play but
acknowledged coaches and doctors were being cautious about letting
him hit too soon or too often.

"I think, actually, we've overdone it as far as the time I
could have come back," Sanders said last week. "But the extra
time did help me get stronger."

Sanders will still face some limitations. He is expected to play
in Saturday night's preseason game against Detroit, though coach
Tony Dungy was unsure whether Sanders would play into the third
quarter like most of the starters usually do for the third
exhibition game.

"He brings an energy and a physicality that we really like,"
Dungy said. "He probably will be on a play count, but I don't know
what that is yet. We'll see how he gets through practice this week,
but it's probably not going to be 35 or 40 plays."

Even without Sanders in the lineup, the Colts' defense has
looked more aggressive during the preseason.

The new starting cornerbacks, Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden,
tackled well in Monday night's 27-24 loss to the Bears. The team's
front seven also consistently pressured Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman, who helped the Colts look even better by fumbling three
times, throwing an interception and taking a sack in 26 plays.

Still, Sanders' return was welcome news for a defense that has
already lost four starters from its Super Bowl lineup -- linebacker
Cato June, defensive tackle Anthony McFarland and cornerbacks Jason David and Nick Harper.

McFarland will miss the season after having surgery to repair
the kneecap tendon in his knee. The Colts have not said which knee
McFarland injured. June, David and Harper all left as free agents.