Teammates help Colts’ Chapman, Ijalana return to the field after two years

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ANDERSON – Nine days is a short time in the grand scheme of an NFL career.

But when compared to the last two years for Ben Ijalana, it’s an eternity to be wearing the Colts uniform.

“I’m blessed,” said the Colts’ third-year offensive tackle. “These past nine days have been a blast.”

That amount of time at training camp at Anderson University is nine-times the amount of time he had in 2012. Early in the first workout of the camp, Ijalana tore his ACL and was lost immediately for the season and was put on waivers for a bit before getting place on injured reserve.

It came just ten months after Ijalana had done the same in his first career start on a Monday night in Tampa. That was October of 2011 and Ijalana was off the field for a majority of that time from then until a week-and-a-half ago.

Yet the tackle-who was the Colts’ second round pick in 2011 out of Villanova-never felt far away from the team. Ijalana said he was only away from the team for ten days following his surgery last August-and was constantly welcomed by his teammates despite not being able to play.

“Just the sense of family. It was just a really good feeling to be able to watch and involve me in the team,” said Ijalana of the 2012 season. “It was a good feeling.”

That helped kept Ijalana optimistic enough to continue with his rehab and eventually make his way back to the field during mini-camp. So far the tackle has gotten through his first full week of training camp since his rookie year without any health issues as he competes for a backup tackle spot behind Anthony Castonzo or Gosder Cherilus.

“Just being able to practice, suit up, pad up, even something as simple as a walk through because last year I wasn’t even able to walk this time,” said Ijalana of the things he appreciates more after his injury. “It’s just a blessing.”

On the other side of the ball the feeling is mutual for someone who has dealt with his share of knee problems since the Colts drafted him in 2012. Playing through knee injuries during his senior year at Alabama in 2011, Josh Chapman helped anchor the Crimson Tide defensive line en route to a national championship.

But the knee ailments continued into his Colts career and kept him off the field for the entire 2012 season, putting him in the same place as Ijalana: Forced to sit and wait.

“It was hard,” admitted Chapman of having to sit out and rehab the 2012 season. “Everything happened for a reason.”

Still it was difficult for the defensive lineman, who many thought if healthy could have made an immediate contribution to the middle of the Colts’ new 3-4 defense.

“I’d never been out a day in my life,” said Chapman. “You want to give up because its like ‘What can I do’.”

Like with Ijalana, it was the nose tackle’s Colts teammates that helped out. He remained in meetings with the defensive lineman as got a chance to learn about the NFL and the Colts outside of the field.

“I learned from the older guys, how to be a pro,” said Chapman. “I kinda took in the mental part of it. Just learning the whole system and I feel like they helped me during my year off.”

So far in camp, Chapman has returned the favor. Players and coaches have praised his ability to take on double teams inside, freeing up a lineman or linebacker to pursue the ball carrier which has led to a few big defensive plays.

“This guy is coming in, putting hands on offensive linemen and making a presence in the middle,” said defensive end Cory Redding of Chapman. “He’s developed that nastiness, ‘Hey I demand two people on me at all times, and if you don’t I’m going to bull rush this center to the back of the quarterback and make something happen.’

That’s his mindset and I love that. To have a big guy in the middle and really cherish the double team. A lot of guys don’t like getting doubled or triple teamed and he’s like ‘Put more, put more on me, because if you do, all my guys are free.’ He’s ready for the workload.”

For Chapman, doing so is like old times-ones that were long in the making.

“It’s no different. Just strapping on the pads, going out there and being physical down in the middle,” said Chapman. “It feels good being back out there.”