While many of us look at a 13-3 pre-season loss and either shrug or groan, Jim Caldwell took a second look at the game tape and came away with many positives.
First and foremost, let me just state this right off: The Colts don't give a crap about pre-season. They sat 11 guys for this game, and all likely could have played if this was a real game. Indy didn't game plan for the contest either. They rarely blitzed; showed vanilla plays on offense. Hell, their entire starting secondary for the game were back-ups. Contrast this with the Minnesota Vikings. They dressed 79 players. They came into the game with regular season intensity. They blitzed like no tomorrow on defense. They seemed to run their conventional offense.
Why did they do all these things?
Well, for one, they don't know who their starting QB is. To find out who has the goods, you kind of need the QBs to play the game as "real" as possible. Remember, Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson are playing for their jobs. Employment is a very strong incentive. Just ask their coach, Brad Childress, who is coaching for his job this year. If the Vikings do not make the playoffs AND win a playoff game, he's gone. He knows it. The players know it. Fans know it. Brett Favre knows it (which is why we will likely hear his name again after the third pre-season game). The Vikes are a team struggling to create an identity. High intensity in the pre-season can sometimes help with that.
For the Colts, this is a team of veterans mixed with strong youth. Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday, Dwight Freeney, Bob Sanders, and Adam Vinatieri have been there, done that many, many times. The first pre-season game is about seeing how players like Austin Collie, Corey Hilliard, and Marcus Howard play. It's about rookie QBs, third string DBs, and back-up linemen learning a new system. So, like I always say in pre-season, don't freak out. They are sloppy now so they won't be later.
Back to Caldwell, the new coach took several positives away from his first pre-season game as head coach of the Colts. As John Oehser has noted, Caldwell is a subtle departure from Tony Dungy in that he will sometimes call out a player, or the team, when things do not look as they should. Now, Caldwell is not doing this Jim Mora-style, but Dungy never called out a player the way Caldwell did recently with Tony Ugoh. He never questioned his team's energy level as Caldwell did during a halftime interview. But, like Dungy, Caldwell does not dwell on the negatives. Instead, he sees what it positive, heightens it, and uses it as an example of how the team can improve.
- Caldwell, like many of us, was very impressed with Tony Ugoh's play Friday night.
"Tony Ugoh really played well," Caldwell said. "We're certainly pleased with the progress he's making."This is said less than five days after Caldwell publicly benched Ugoh for Charlie Johnson, who did not play Friday night even though he'd practiced all week. I am starting to believe what many of you are suggesting, that Ugoh will once again be the starter at LT in Week One.
- Adrian Grady caught Caldwell's attention as well, as did Jacob Lacey.
- It's early, but the feeling is Pat McAfee will provide Indy with a field position weapon.
- Rookies like Austin Collie, Fili Moala, and Terrance Taylor are coming along nicely.
So, as I always say, don't get too crazy about losing in pre-season. The Detroit Lions went 4-0 in pre-season last year. 'Nuff said.
This time of year is about seeing what the back-ups can do. It's about watching rookies like Curtis Painter go out there and fall on their face. Remember Peyton Manning in his first pre-season game? Hell, Matt Cassell played so bad in pre-season last year he was almost cut. Now look at him!
I know we've been living in a football desert for months now. The real games start in just one month. In the meantime, let the new kids develop and grow, and let Corey Hilliard and players like him struggle now as opposed to when it really counts.
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