IN THE THICK OF IT

Head Coach Jim Caldwell said the Colts are entering an important stretch of the off-season, a stretch that will 'give us a real good opportunity to assess everybody.'

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Colts Begin Key Stretch of Off-Season With Eight Practices in 11 Days

INDIANAPOLIS – So far, Jim Caldwell likes what he has seen from the off-season.

Now, he said it's time to see more.

Caldwell, entering his second season as the Colts' head coach, said while the team has made progress and gotten solid work done in the 2010 off-season, the most telling period may be in the coming days, a stretch that includes not only more organized team activities, but this weekend's mandatory mini-camp.

In all, that will be eight practices in 11 days.

After that, the Colts will have a month and a half before training camp, and Caldwell said that makes the coming weeks critical ones.

"We are right in the thick of it right now," Caldwell said Tuesday following a session of the Colts' 2010 organized team activities, four weeks of on-field, team-oriented activities scheduled to be held through June 11 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

"We have literally, starting today, eight practices in 11 days, so that will give us a real good opunity to assess everybody."

The Colts, the defending AFC South and AFC Champions, have been in off-season conditioning since mid-April, and the club began OTAs two weeks ago.

"At this point, things have been moving along as planned," Caldwell said.

And Caldwell said while the time is very much an acclimation and learning period for the rookie class, that group is making progress. The Colts selected eight rookies in the 2010 NFL Draft, then signed more collegiate free agents shortly thereafter. The newcomers worked as a group the following weekend in a rookie mini-camp.

Most of that group returned to Indianapolis two weeks ago, and Caldwell said entering their third week working with veteran players the group appears to have a better idea of what's expected.

"I could see it today, even," Caldwell said Tuesday. "There were some things in terms of alignment and things of that nature that are going to pop out at you, but for the most part, they've gotten a fairly decent grasp of things. They have a long way to go, but you could see the improvement."

The Colts will hold a three-day mini-camp Friday through Sunday, with Saturday's practice being held at Lucas Oil Stadium. That practice is free and open to the public at 2:15 p.m.

"We do (like where are)," Caldwell said. "Things are going as we planned. It's going to be a fairly grueling 11 days. It's a lot of work being done during that time period. They get a day break here and there, but for the most part it's going to be a challenge for them, physically.

"We certainly like where they are. They had a great start (Tuesday), and we anticipate that's going to continue."

In other Colts news Tuesday:
• Caldwell said defensive end/pass rusher Jerry Hughes, the team's first-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, "can do all of the things we anticipated he can do, but obviously that's without pads. You don't get a sense of the full essence of a player until you can see them in pads under game-like conditions. But he does things extremely well. He's smart. We think he's a guy who has a lot of versatility, and we're anxious to see him progress."

• The Colts are exploring different ways to use Hughes in different situations, Caldwell said. He said that could include situations when Pro Bowl defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are also on the field. "That's a possibility," Caldwell said. "That's what this process is for. We have an opportunity to assess their individual ability, see where they fit in within our scheme. You make those kinds of projections before you draft them, but obviously now you get a chance to put it in practice application and see what they can do in our scheme."

• Caldwell said wide receiver Austin Collie has continued to progress in his second off-season. Collie, a fourth-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft from Brigham Young, caught 60 passes for 676 yards and seven touchdowns last season. "I do see him getting better," Caldwell said. "He has the kind of work habits and he's really diligent about everything that he does that would lead you to believe you're going to see some improvement. He's in early. He stays late. He works extremely hard. The sky's the limit. I think he can keep improving."

• Caldwell said defensive tackle Fili Moala, who played sparingly as a rookie last season, could be a player who improves significantly in the off-season. "He has strength and explosion," Caldwell said. "We have to bring those things out and see those snap after snap. Often, if a guy's thinking about his assignments and focusing in on those things, he gets a little tunnel-visioned. More often than not, you don't get the opportunity to see his natural ability. That's where he was last year. He was learning so much that we didn't get an opportunity to see him at his best. We anticipate he's going to be one of those guys who's going to be able to come forward and give us some help."

• Caldwell said he continues to be pleased with the off-season progress of wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez and safety Bob Sanders. Gonzalez missed all but one game last season with a knee injury and Sanders – the 2007 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year – missed all but two games. "Bob's excited and he's progressing nicely," Caldwell said. "Anthony's doing well."

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