INDIANAPOLIS – A 16-game, 17-week NFL season is a definite test of endurance, among many, many other things.
It is stocked with challenge and opportunity, satisfaction and occasional setbacks.
For Jim Caldwell, entering his third year at the helm of the Colts, it is a time that evokes emotion and anticipation.
As the first game of the 2011 regular season is six days away, he is excited.
"This time of year is always an interesting time. It's a pretty exciting time for me because you're narrowing things down and your focus gets crystallized a little bit more," said Caldwell. "It gives you a chance to get into a routine during the regular season where you're really trying to build a team that has the ability to keep getting better week after week after week."
This marks Caldwell's 10th season with the team. His roles with the Colts over nine consecutive playoff seasons and 10 -victory campaigns include as the quarterbacks coach, assistant head coach and associate head coach.
He has been with teams that have earned seven division titles and performed to the highest level of the league.
Caldwell knows nothing is earned easily in the NFL and only those teams with narrow focus solely on the immediate tasks and opponent at hand are those that increase the odds for success.
Seasonal themes that have become common practices for the club in the past have included, 'One Game at a Time,' and 'Next Man Up,' while locker room signs remind players to take care of the little things.
Caldwell knows how the 2011 Colts must approach the season.
"This season in particular is one I'm really excited about because we have an opportunity to work our way through it," said Caldwell. "It's going to be one of those situations where I've told the team it's like, 'Six inches at a time.' That's kind of what we're going to be able to take as we move along."
Indianapolis has been remarkably prolific in terms of quick starts and long winning streaks. The club started 5-0 in 2003, 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006, 7-0 in 2007 and 14-0 in 2009. It earned winning streaks of at least seven straight games in six consecutive seasons (2004-09). Those long stretches were accomplished by meeting challenges on a step by step basis, taking things one step at a time.
In 2008, the club withstood a 3-4 start to earn a 12-4 mark. Last year was a supreme test of resilience. Indianapolis triumphed in the wake of injuries to win its last four games and capture the AFC South on the last Sunday of the season, guaranteeing a league record-tying ninth straight post-season berth.
Caldwell, his staff and the squad know the season must be addressed as it comes along. As the team reports today for the start of the season, Caldwell's detailed approach will be enunciated again and then implemented.
"We have to make consistent, incremental improvement. That's the real key," he said. "That comes from consistent practice. That comes from consistent preparation. That's one of the things I think we've been good at. It's an exciting time right now to try to get the guys back into that mode right now."
As for the immediate task at hand, it is the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium this Sunday at 1:00 p.m. (ET). It is the start of the AFC South six-game schedule for Indianapolis. The first stated goal of the team each season is to try and win its division, something Indianapolis has achieved in seven of the past nine years.
The 2011 season will present the difficult challenge all past ones have in a very competitive division. Caldwell offers his thoughts on the division this year.
"I think year in and year out it's been a highly, highly competitive conference, and I don't anticipate it's going to be any different than that," said Caldwell. "You may see some teams that have made a couple of adjustments here and there at quarterback. Tennessee for example, you just take a look and they have a very experienced guy in (Matt) Hasselbeck, a very talented guy in their backup, and they still have players at up front at running back and good defensive personnel. They're going to be able to run the ball, and that's what I'm sure Mike (Munchak) is preaching to his guys. He's an ex-offensive line coach, and they'll be a physical team. I don't think you are going to see a change in that regard. I think Jacksonville is going to be tough, hard-nosed and as difficult to deal with as they are every year. Then there is no question about Houston, they've probably added a little more of a spice to their repertoire in terms of changing up their defensive look with a new coordinator. Obviously, they have an offense that has a lot of power and punch, so it's going to be tough. You've got good backs in all three places, and some of the best backs in league. We're going to have our hands full."