07/29/2011 12:43 EDT | Updated 09/28/2011 05:12 EDT

Colts coach doesn't expect Manning to be on field at start of training camp

INDIANAPOLIS - The pain in Peyton Manning's neck will keep him off the practice field early next week.

Indianapolis still isn't sure how long it will take to get the four-time MVP back.

Colts coach Jim Caldwell said Friday that the Colts will be cautious with their franchise quarterback, who had neck surgery in May, and will not push him too hard. Camp opens Monday at Anderson University.

"Obviously, he's not ready right now, but nobody works harder and is more dedicated than him," Caldwell said. "When he's ready, we'll turn him loose."

Caldwell did not provide a timetable for Manning's return.

It's the second time in four years the Colts will open camp without Manning.

In 2008, Manning missed all of training with an infected bursa sac in his left knee, which required two surgeries. He struggled during the first half of the season, but led the Colts to nine straight wins to make it back into the playoffs.

He also had neck surgery in March 2010 but recovered and did not miss any practices at camp.

The only other time Manning has missed even a portion of training camp was in 1998, when he was one week before signing his first contract.

Teammates said they aren't concerned that Manning won't be throwing right away.

"I've told him to be as cautious as he needs to be because the last time I checked, we don't count preseason games," Pro Bowl centre Jeff Saturday said. "I can tell you this, there's not a player that works harder than he does."

The questions about Manning's health have been increasing ever since he had the surgery.

In June, Archie Manning, Peyton's father, said his son's rehab wasn't going as quickly as expected. A month later, at the family's annual passing academy, Peyton Manning barely threw and said he was being cautious with his rehab because lockout rules prevented him from working out with Colts team trainers.

Last week, team owner Jim Irsay acknowledged Manning might not be ready when practices begin Monday, a position he reiterated just hours after the lockout ended.

"You don't want him doing too much too soon and you don't know on recoveries," Irsay said. "A lot of times eight weeks is enough. But to get a full recovery, it's going to be a little longer in this case."

Caldwell said the coaches have not had a chance to see where Manning yet, and he's not sure when they will.

Manning is still locked into negotiations for a long-term contract that could keep him in Indy for the rest of his career. In February, the Colts tagged Manning as their exclusive franchise player, meaning he would make about US$23 million this season if he signed the one-year offer.

Until he signs one or the other, Manning couldn't practice anyway.

Irsay has promised to make Manning the highest-paid player in league history, but even he acknowledges that's a very high price with a salary cap slated at $120.3 million. Indy hopes that by lowering Manning's salary cap number, they will be able to sign more of their free agents.

The team also confirmed Friday that it had agreed to new deals with kicker Adam Vinatieri and safety Melvin Bullitt. On Thursday, the Colts also lost linebacker Clint Session to Jacksonville, which signed him to a five-year deal worth more than $29 million.

Two key players were still out there: Running back Joseph Addai and left tackle Charlie Johnson, two players who would help protect Indy's biggest investment.

"We've been in a lockout, and when you think about that, it's very difficult to get that (Manning's deal) done in two, three days," Caldwell said. "It's going to take a couple days, and it will be done at some point in time. When it is, we'll be ready to go."

Manning isn't the only player the Colts have been getting medical checks on.

Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark has been cleared for full participation and will wear a splint on the wrist he injured last fall, the team said. Other key players cleared to practice are receiver Anthony Gonzalez (knee), tight end Brody Eldridge (knee), cornerback Kelvin Hayden (neck) and cornerbacks Jerraud Powers (foot, arm) and Kevin Thomas (knee).

The team also said that receiver Austin Collie has not shown any lingering symptoms of the two concussions that forced him to finish last season on injured reserve. He is expected to be a full participant in practice next week.

"I feel good, I'm excited to get back into it," Collie said. "At this point, everything is great."

Except, of course, the status of Manning.