Training camp is a time of newness, and that includes opportunity for contribution. With coaches not having a typical off-season in terms of spring work, they will be getting that time with the full squad now over 20 practices at Anderson University. They also will be gathering knowledge in meeting time as well.
That they are doing this is not new. It is what coaches do. Monday's practices were the first visible on-field opportunities to observe the players in physical action. The club had two practices in shorts. The morning session was approximately one hour. The afternoon session was in shorts with helmets and went about two hours. The practices happened after a Sunday night orientation and were followed by Monday night meetings. Caldwell spoke after the first practice on Monday.
"Our first practice I think went well. We just walked through some of our techniques, individual work and everything, then had the opportunity of doing a little bit of team work," he said. "We want our young guys familiar with what we do and then also try to get our veterans sharper as well."
The second practice Monday included an identification means for coaches as they worked the younger players in with veterans.
"You are always somewhat familiar (with the players) because we have a lot of guys that have been with us for a long time, but it's going to be an unusual practice for us, and typically we put the names on the front of helmets of rookies and guys that are new to our organization," said Caldwell. "We are going to do the same thing during preseason camp. Typically we don't do it this time of year. It's done in the spring. Everybody gets a feel for who those individuals are and we can associate names, numbers, faces, and all that kind of stuff so we will have to do a little bit of that this fall."
One added wrinkle to yesterday and that will proceed for a few more practices was a CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) transition rule that affects practice participation. Under the new rule, veteran players who signed contracts on or after 6 p.m. on July 29 are prohibited from practicing in on-field activities, workouts, weight training or other non-physical activities prior to the start of the league year on Thursday, August 4. Thirteen players who were affected by the rule included running back Joseph Addai, defensive back Al Afalava, linebacker Darry Beckwith, defensive back Melvin Bullitt, quarterback Nate Davis, offensive guard Kyle DeVan, offensive tackle Ryan Diem, defensive tackle Eric Foster, defensive tackle Antonio Johnson, quarterback Peyton Manning (PUP), quarterback Dan Orlovsky, offensive tackle Michael Toudouze and kicker Adam Vinatieri.
While coaches are not fond of thinning the numbers of players available for practice, good coaches adapt and see opportunity. Caldwell noted the matter and adapted.
"It's a little different. We have to look at it a couple different ways," he said. "Obviously we would always like to have them out there. There is no question about that, but we always get an opportunity to look at some young guys here early on, and that's the thing we have to certainly look at and look at closely. Ordinarily, you might not have gotten as good a look as you will get in this particular situation, particularly the first three or four days with us, and I think that's important because we have so much evaluating to do in such a short period of time. So I think, in kind of an odd way, this helps us a little bit."
A large part of the club's success over previous seasons is the ability of the scouting department to unearth players whose physical skills fit the system on the field. What is essential as well is for the players to have the aptitude to process information and have it translate to the field quickly. The work done by vice chairman Bill Polian, vice president and general manager Chris Polian and director of player personnel Tom Telesco and the personnel staff is critical in supplying the type of player who can be educated, coached and put on the field.
The club has spoken through the years of the importance of finding the necessary talent, and Caldwell mentioned it again as 2011 is getting underway.
"Well you know it's interesting because of the number of guys we have to get up to speed, and it's a real challenge," said Caldwell. "But also one of the things that is very, 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 are quick studies, guys that are smart and guys that learn quickly. Bill (Polian) and Chris (Polian) and Tommy (Telesco) and those guys do a great job of finding those kinds of individuals. I remember remarking even last (Sunday) night, (assistant offensive line coach) Ron Prince walks out of the offensive line meeting room and says to me, 'We've got a lot of smart guys in that room,' referring to the young guys that are just coming in. Obviously, that's going to help."
Caldwell and his staff will go about the process of learning the players. There is work to do. The coaching staff is seasoned. The system is in place, and there are veteran players who can help impart the knowledge, too.
"We're going to pick it up quick," said center Jeff Saturday, speaking of the offensive line but also with a conviction that matches all veteran players and the coaches. "We have a group of veteran guys who can help kind of carry them (young players) along, help them with the keys and the things that are impactful. I think they'll catch up quicker than people believe. We're going to be ready. When September comes around, we'll all be ready to get out there in game one."