INDIANAPOLIS – David Caldwell started the final two preseason games for the Colts at strong safety. He played as a reserve in the first two preseason games.
This is his second year with the Colts and to this point 2011 has been much more fun than his first year.
Last year Caldwell had practiced throughout the spring and prepared up to the first week of preseason games to have the opportunity he just now experienced. Last year's plans met an interruption.
"I got hurt the Monday or Tuesday before the first preseason game," said Caldwell. "It was in a practice and I never had any issues with my shoulder, but it just popped out. Injuries happen in football, but it was an unfortunate situation."
Surgery was required and the injured reserve list was ahead. A player who never had missed a football season since starting the game at a young age now had to contend with a long period of on-field inactivity.
"It was rough. I had not been out of football for that long since I started playing around nine or 10 years old," said Caldwell. "I did not redshirt in college, so I never sat out an entire year. It's hard to describe the feeling."
Caldwell was a four-year performer at William and Mary. He started 37 of 47 games and finished his career with 280 tackles. He started at least eleven games in each of his final three seasons, earning all-conference honors his final year.
The history major wanted to create his own positive history, so he remained in Indianapolis to work on his 2011 on-field return.
"I stayed here to do my rehab," said Caldwell. "You feel like you're a part of the team, but you're not part of the team. It's an awkward feeling. You just want to be there to help the guys when you see them competing and you know you can't go out there. It's just a real tough feeling to have, but it motivates you. You have to use it as motivation or in a negative way. I chose to use it as motivation."
Then at age 23, the year of waiting seemed like an eternity. It gave him time to formulate a perspective for 2011.
"It felt like forever. I can't even describe really how it felt to have to miss that time," he said. "It wasn't necessarily a humbling experience because I like to think I am pretty humble already. I wouldn't want to have to go through that (an injury) to get humble. It's an experience where you just look at it and you never know when your last down of football will be. That's one thing I just put in my head. I'd never had surgery for anything in football, so I just put that in my head. Whether it's practice or a game, I never know if my next play is going to be my last play. I want to give people something to remember."
At 5-11, 212, Caldwell has good size for free safety. He displayed his hitting ability throughout preseason. Though he is pleased with the playing time, he knows the off-field study is the path to on-field improvement.
"I feel like I performed pretty well, but you always have to go back and look at the film and correct the mistakes you made," he said. "Football is a game where you can never get to the point where you're done working. You can always work to get better. I feel like I have a ways to go, and I think I can still do some things I haven't been able to show. I'm looking forward to it, and I feel positive for what is to come with the Colts."
Colts head coach Jim Caldwell was a defensive back at Iowa and appreciates good play in the secondary. He has enjoyed what he has seen from the young player.
"David Caldwell has been good and solid. He's really tackled well," said the Colts' head coach. "He's been all over the place. He's a guy who indeed would catch your eye for a reason because he has been solid. He hasn't made very many mistakes. He's played a very mature role back there."
Safety Melvin Bullitt made the club in 2007 as an undrafted free agent. Bullitt likes what he sees in Caldwell and spoke about him after the Cincinnati finale.
"He definitely is a physical guy, that's always good," said Bullitt. "He has a great presence and knows how to get to the ball. That's one thing (about) our coaches, they like when they find those physical players. He's one of those guys who fit that role. I think our styles are different. He's probably the hardest hitter in our secondary. He's got 220 pounds going full speed. He's a young guy. He has a lot to learn and he has so much potential. There's no telling how good he can be."
Caldwell also used his year of rehab to stay around the club's veteran players, Bullitt in particular, who also was injured. Now, Caldwell appreciates the veteran guidance from the whole position group as he tries to join them.
"Even being off the field, I stayed close with guys like Melvin Bullitt. Melvin got hurt himself, so I stayed close to him," said Caldwell. "I did stay close with people. In our locker room even though you're competing against each other, everyone's willing to give a helping a hand. Whether it's a corner like Jerraud (Powers) and definitely Melvin and Antoine (Bethea), they all help a lot."
Caldwell's physical size appears to be a strength to his game, and he does not mind hitting aggressively before the whistle.
"That's one thing you can control, how you fly around and hit somebody," he said. "You're out there and you get to hit someone. While you are out there, you might as well hit them as hard as you can. If you're feeling it, you know the other guy is feeling it as well."
For now, Caldwell has done all he can do after his difficult first year. Regardless of what happens, he is pleased with what 2011 has offered to this point. Now, he waits.
"In this business, you just never know," he said. "That's the nature of it. I'm happy with myself. I can look myself in the mirror and be happy with the performance I've put out in preseason and the effort I put out in training camp. Preseason is over. It's on everybody else. I've done what I can, it's up to the coaches. Whenever you can look at yourself, know you've given all you have and you can say, 'I'm happy with the effort I put forth and my performance,' that's all you can ask for."