Friday, August 7, 2009
Colts comfortable with change
By Chris Mortensen
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Jim Caldwell is not Tony Dungy, but he appears very comfortable in his own skin for a guy who is replacing a coaching legend.
"I can't imagine an organization that prepared better for a transition like this," said Caldwell.
In fact, while quarterback Peyton Manning acknowledged that Dungy's principles as a coach are almost like a steady whisper circulating throughout the team, he also believes that the Colts are in capable hands with Caldwell, who has served as his position coach.
"I guess I've always looked at Jim as more than a position coach," Manning said. "This feels very natural."
It's because Jim Irsay, who has surprised many by rising to an elite status among NFL owners, and president/GM Bill Polian, a five-time executive of the year, had a plan.
"Tony had been talking about an endgame to his career for three years and he came very close to retiring two years ago," Polian said. "At that point I asked Tony if he would mind if we started to take Jim through a process of being our next head coach. Tony, being Tony, didn't hesitate and said, 'Absolutely, it's the right thing to do.'"
So after the 2007 season, Caldwell vacated his job as Manning's quarterback coach and was named the associate head coach. Caldwell said he shadowed every step Dungy made, even when there were player disciplinary issues where Dungy would say, "Here's the situation. Here are the facts. What would you do?"
"And the one thing Tony stressed to me is that no matter what, I always had to remember that any decision had to be in the best interest of the Colts," Caldwell said.
Polian explained: "We took Jim on a head-coaching seminar for a full year, from camp organization, practice organization and administrative organization. We took Jim through every meeting, every situation, as if he was the head coach. That included personnel discussions, draft evaluations, sitting in on every draft meeting and a seat at the table for the two days of the draft.
"So when it was time to take the torch from Tony, he had been through real rehearsal, so to speak."
Dungy, though, was proven. Polian likes to say of young players, "Looks good in practice, but let's see what happens when it's for real."
"Jim Caldwell has served under Tony for nine years in the NFL, eight years under Joe Paterno at Penn State -- both Hall of Fame coaches -- and he was a head coach for seven years at Wake Forest where he took that team to a new level whether people want to acknowledge that or not," Polian said. "I can go through a catalog of things Jim has done and prove that whenever he's had a challenge he has risen to the occasion."
What I saw and learned while visiting the Colts, the seventh stop on my training camp bus tour:
One subtlety of the Colts' camp is that Manning and fellow quarterbacks Jim Sorgi and Curtis Painter do not wear different colored jerseys from their teammates, unlike most quarterbacks in practice who do so to indicate their no-contact status. Not that Manning and the other quarterbacks are fair game -- they are untouchable. There are just no red, green or yellow jerseys on the quarterbacks.
The Colts are anxious to see rookie Painter (Purdue) in preseason action. He's having a nice camp. He was a sixth-round pick and as of now is no threat to unseat Sorgi as the No. 2 quarterback for 2009. Sorgi did tweak his hamstring in Friday afternoon's practice -- on the Colts' staple stretch run play.
With Reggie Wayne assuming the clear No. 1 receiver spot, Anthony Gonzalez moves in for Marvin Harrison. Gonzalez has been solid but there are no pretensions that he's going to be something special. The No. 3 wide receiver battle may come down to Pierre Garcon and Roy Hall, who made a couple of nice catches from Painter.
Manning's chemistry with tight end Dallas Clark is outright scary. They hooked up on a touchdown pass in a red zone drill Friday and you would have sworn DB Antoine Bethea had it perfectly covered. Clark did suffer a strained hamstring later, but nothing serious.
On offense, the most focused goal is getting the line settled and it's clear the Colts have put left tackle Tony Ugoh on notice that he's fighting for his job with Charlie Johnson.
Joseph Addai is healthy and the unquestioned starter at running back while rookie first-rounder Donald Brown has flashed his receiving skills out of the backfield.
You hear the Colts will be less "vanilla" on defense even though their base will remain the Tampa 2. The team expects to attack more with new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer but Caldwell said, "The things we're talking about were already in the defensive playbook; we just might use an extra page or two."
Safety Bob Sanders, perhaps the catalyst to the defense, is on the PUP list after offseason knee surgery. He'll visit with orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews in two weeks to check his progress. The goal, naturally, is to get him ready for the regular-season opener.
This is the 11th straight year the Colts have trained in Terre Haute on the beautiful campus of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Despite its status as an NCAA Division III athletic school, the facilities are startlingly impressive. Clearly, the fact that the school's engineering graduates are being hired at a near 95 percent rate with an average starting salary of $59,000 has paid some dividends in fundraising that make it a worthy NFL camp site.
Unlike many veterans, Manning still appreciates the concept of training away from the home facility in a dorm setting. Yes, team bonding is still valued by No. 18.
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.