It is a time of nerves for young players, a time for affirmation and refinement for the veterans.
For some established veterans, the preseason was a time of great value when they were young players trying to make the team. It was that way for starting strong safety and team captain Melvin Bullitt in 2007. He capitalized on playing in four contests. It benefited him and a few teammates he can cite.
"I think it's the best thing that can happen. When they were talking about cutting it down to two games, I didn't see how it was going to give these guys like Gary (Brackett), me, Blair White and Jeff (Saturday) chances to make the roster," said Bullitt. "Four preseason games give the veterans a little bit longer preseason to practice, go against each other in one-on-ones and get a few reps to make sure they're healthy. It gives the rookies a chance to get some live game action. You never know when there's a situation where you might have to jump in there and start. My second year, I had to do that. I guess you could say it was a little earlier than expected, but I had to do it and it worked out."
As preseason opens, Bullitt advises younger players to seize whatever moment is provided.
"I would tell them they are going to get an opportunity in the game. I definitely did," he said. "This is a great organization to come to as a rookie, especially undrafted, because it doesn't matter what round pick you were, you do what you're supposed to do (and) you're going to get a shot to make the roster. If you go out there and make plays, you'll be here when September starts."
When it comes time for the newer players, linebacker Gary Brackett tells them to practice calmness and focus.
"Obviously, they're going to have a lot of butterflies and anxious (emotions) with this being their first NFL experience," said Brackett. "I would tell them just try to relax, watch your keys and play football. At the end of the day, it's football. It's what you have been doing your whole life. Now, it's the big stage. You just have to relax and be able to be calm out there and miss all the excitement."
Words are easy. The rest can be more difficult. Though he has traveled a few NFL miles since 2003, Brackett still remembers his first preseason action.
"Yes, I do remember it. I had that same nervousness," he said. "For me, it was the first blitz, the first hit, the first bit of contact. I just relaxed out there and played football."
Being an undrafted, 5-11 linebacker, Brackett recalls wanting to prove he belonged, and he listened to the voice of his head coach at the time.
"A little bit was that (proving he belonged after not being drafted). Obviously, people blackballed me because of my height, (saying) that I couldn't play at this level," said Brackett. "I think one thing Coach (Tony) Dungy always said was, 'Guys can play no matter what they look like.' He would always find a spot for you on the field. He did that, and the rest is history."
So when a young player could doubt he can play or it might be hinted that he cannot, Brackett urges the player to ask, 'Why not?'
"That's it. I think you have the ultimate say. Never let someone's perception of you become your reality," said Brackett. "That's something I believe in. That's something I stand for to this day."
This Saturday will be the true live action for some Colts. Head Coach Jim Caldwell says the approach to the game will be straight-forward and should look familiar to those who remember the club's past preseason history in terms of how it uses personnel.
"We're not going to do much different than what we've done. If you just want to go back and take a look at the film from last year, we're going to be fairly close to that," said Caldwell. "There are going to be maybe a few more young guys that are going to have a little bit more of an opportunity. You may not see some of the older guys for a couple of reasons. Number one, some of them have not practiced much and we may not want to get them out there and give them a heavy dose. Number two, we have a lot of young guys that we have to make decisions on somewhere down the line, so we're going to try to get some guys a lot of playing time. You can't get everybody in the ballgame, so we want to give some folks a pretty good dose. It's not going to deviate much from what we've done in the past."
With quarterback Peyton Manning on the Physically Unable to Perform list while recovering from neck surgery in May, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky figure to see significant action. Caldwell likes what he has seen from Painter.
"He's been doing extremely well," Caldwell said. "Oftentimes when you're playing behind such a great one, there's only one Peyton Manning there won't be another one at least in my lifetime, it is very, very difficult to perform in that shadow. Curtis has done a tremendous job thus far. He is who he is. He can't be anybody else but himself, but he's getting better. I think you can see he's getting more comfortable in our system. He's matured within our system, and he's been functioning well. We're certainly excited about getting an opportunity to see him perform in the first preseason game."
Orlovsky is trying to extend a six-year career that has seen him have playing time with Detroit and Houston. Caldwell notes Orlovsky is working hard to learn the system and is making progress.
"He's catching on quite quickly. He's been around, he's a seasoned guy, he's a veteran and he's a pro," said Caldwell. "We've been impressed with the way he's handled himself, and all we do is tell him to come out and play and play hard and we'll do the evaluation. So he's got an opportunity. As you can see he's getting reps and that's key, but every time you're getting reps you have an opportunity to get evaluated, and every time you get evaluated you're in competition, which is great."