1:51 AM EDT, August 13, 2011
With a summer of interaction inactivity, the difficult things become more difficult and the simple stuff becomes an issue.
Hence the decision Jim Caldwell made early into his stay at Anderson University in August.
The thought came about when thinking about the 20 rookies-draft picks and free agents-that would be coming into camp with only peripheral knowledge of the system.
But first and foremost, Caldwell had to know their names.
“You are always somewhat familiar because we have a lot of guys that have been with us for a long time," said the coach, and he'd get to meet the rookies during mini camps and off season workouts at the Colts complex.
In past years, the strategy was simple.
"Typically we put the names on the front of helmets of rookies and guys that are new to our organization," said Caldwell, speaking of the practice that normally took place before training camp.
With the restrictions of the NFL Lockout cancelling those offseason activities, the nametags made their way to Anderson for the first time, a symbol of the need for quick learning after an unusual summer.
"Everybody gets a feel for who those individuals are and we can associate names, numbers, faces, and all that kind of stuff," said Caldwell of the strips of tape with the names on it. "So we will have to do a little bit of that this fall."
Call it the most visual but a rather minor step in a major challenge faced by Caldwell and his coaching staff between August 1st and the regular season. They had a little under two weeks to get the first year players ready for their first preseason game August 13th in St. Louis.
But getting the players to pick up the system may have actually come months before in the recruiting process of the players, according to Caldwell.
"it’s a real challenge, but also one of the things that is very important to us particularly in the evaluation process when we are trying to select players is that we are trying to find guys that have quick players," said Caldwell. "Guys that are smart and guys that learn quickly.
"And Bill and Chris and Tommy and those guys do a great job of finding those kinds of individuals."
History would support his postion, especially over the last four years. Since 2007, Colts have had an average of 18 rookies a season take the field for at least one game a season. Last season that number was at 18, including four players (Pat Angerer, Kavell Conner, Brody Eldridge, and Blair White) who started a combined 32 games.
Those players, however, had a full offseason to get aquainted with the Colts system, and not having that brings a bit of stress to this year's collection of first year players.
"Its the playbook, that's biggest thing," said rookie running back Darren Evans of the key to getting up to speed. "Knowing where to line up, knowing where to go when you are lined up, knowing who you have on certain blocks in certain situations."
At least from one player, they got some sympathy.
"I feel for them probably the most," said safety Melvin Bullitt. "I had rookie mini-camp, I had OTAs, then we had another rookie camp and then we had training camp."
In the latter, thought, he was able to ditch that strip of tape just above his facemask.