It is in two-fold fashion.
Not only do the Colts play their first preseason home game against the Washington Redskins. The team also broke training camp at Anderson University on Thursday and re-established operations at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
The Colts trained at their summer home from July 31 until yesterday. The team's first preseason game was last Saturday at St. Louis.
While game days or nights do nothing to provide comfortable feelings in any regard, at least the setting will have a familiar feel.
The opponent, the Washington Redskins, will provide a familiar opponent – sort of.
The teams met last October 17 in FedEx Field. Indianapolis earned a 27-24 victory before more than 87,000 rabid Redskins fans in FedEx Field. The teams last met in preseason in 2008, when Washington earned a 30-16 victory in Canton, Ohio's Fawcett Stadium before 22,216 fans. The Redskins last visited Indianapolis in 2006, when the Colts posted a 36-22 victory in the RCA Dome.
Putting talk about geographic locations and past meetings aside, the Colts and Redskins have a second preseason game to play. The game is another important step as the teams learn about themselves and gird for the 2011 regular season which starts in three weeks.
Indianapolis opened its preseason action with a 33-10 loss at St. Louis. Head Coach Jim Caldwell spoke the week before the game about the approach to the contest looking very much like how the club had played preseason games in the past.
The Colts used 79 players in last Saturday's game. The majority of offensive starters played in one possession, while their defensive counterparts appeared largely in two possessions. The club fell behind early and never could tie or take the lead in the game. Indianapolis was saddled with tough field position throughout the game, starting only two of 12 possessions outside its 25-yard line. St. Louis also totaled 13 points off miscues by the Colts.
Any defeat is difficult for a head coach. Every outcome looks different after film study. Head Coach Jim Caldwell saw those different things after watching tape after the St. Louis game.
"We thought we did some things fairly well, but obviously not consistently enough. One of the things when you look at the tape after a game, oftentimes turnovers can kind of cloud some pretty decent play from individuals. Some of that was hidden," he said. "After we got through that little shaky start with our number one offense, we came right back and drove the ball down the field nine plays and got ourselves in a position to score to end up with a field goal. Defense, I think we did a pretty good job. We were really backed against the wall there the first drive (after the interception). We were back deep in our territory (on the third drive), but they came back and had a good three-and-out (to force a field goal). So, there was some pretty good play in there in the brief time some of the guys (first-teamers) were in there. Even with the younger guys, some of the younger guys played pretty hard and played well and showed up in a number of different places. It's a team game. Some of the turnovers kind of threw the game out of balance and made it a little difficult for us to put as many points on the board as we'd like."
Even with an off-season that provides a usual spring practice schedule, coaches are not quick to make judgments on personnel, and this past off-season did not provide anything that approximated work until training camps started. Caldwell cautions not to be quick to assess performances.
"You can't make huge assessments about the first outing of the year," said Caldwell. "That's one of the things that you can make a big mistake that way. We have to be able to develop, and you usually see a lot of room for development between the first preseason game and the second, so we'll certainly be looking for that.
"I just think it takes some time, particularly this year. I think this year is a little different than most years. I just think you are going to have to be very, very patient in terms of your evaluations this time of year."
The preseason's four-game format allows clubs to monitor development in every regard. Veterans need to work on timing and communication. Young players have a chance to measure themselves against the highest competition in the sport.
As always, coaches keep a watchful eye, and the preseason is a time that Caldwell enjoys. Does he have a favorite time of preseason and a not-so-favorite time?
"Not really. I really don't. I enjoy them all," said Caldwell. "I think it's a great time for us in terms of evaluation. We get a chance to see some young guys get out there and play in front of the lights for the first time. The speed of the game, that's really the thing you're trying to determine is whether or not a guy can match up to that speed. I was telling one of the young kick returners the other day, David Gilreath, that he is going to see the biggest, fastest collection of players coming down the field to cover that kick, and anything sideways in this league gets run down pretty quickly. So, you'd better find a seem. It's always interesting to see how guys adjust."
Fans watching tonight's game will see a number of faces that are playing in Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time. Approximately one-third of Colts players fit into that category. Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian has spoken often about how people may not be familiar with some of the players' names now, but a handful of those players will be much more familiar to the club's followers come November and December, and those players will be making contributions as the Colts try to extend a successful run of regular season play.
Many established Colts veterans have used the four-game preseason as a springboard to solid careers. The club has a well-earned reputation of providing opportunities for young talent to make the roster, regardless of how a player joined the roster. Two of the four team captains, linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt, punched their tickets to ride as undrafted free agents. Needless to say, both favor the preseason format that benefited their careers.
"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 games continue, Bullitt has advice for some of the younger players, too.
"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."
The adage, 'Football players play football,' very much pertains to Colts tight end Dallas Clark. Clark, according to Caldwell, is one of the more enthusiastic players he has come across in his career. Asked last week about being a fan of preseason games, Clark's response underscored Caldwell's description of his infatuation for the sport.
"Yeah, I am. I enjoy that we get to go out and get our work done. I also like to see these young guys get out there and get their chance. You love to see that underdog," Clark said. "You love to see that player that's undrafted and at the end of the preseason he's on the team. You love that aspect of it. You love seeing guys just fighting, giving everything they've got to fulfill their dream and to make this team better and help this team out. I like that aspect of it.
"Every year there's always one or two, it just depends. Every year there's at least one (young player who makes it) where you feel just a little extra special, a little more happy for those guys. To see them fight that hard and to get rewarded like that it's great to see. It's not easy to make the team. It gets tougher and tougher. It means a lot when you get to make an NFL team."