Caldwell Encouraged Colts to be the Hunters Rather than the Hunted
INDIANAPOLIS – As the season went on, Gary Brackett said the idea made more and more sense.
Brackett, a middle linebacker and the Colts' defensive captain, said it seemed every week the talk among the media and fans before the game was about the difficulty of the Colts' task at hand, and the quality and danger of the next opponent.
There was an early road game at Miami. Then, there was a game a week later at Arizona.
There was a midseason game at then-winless Tennessee.
And so on.
All of those teams were playoff teams a year ago, but no matter the opponent, Brackett said it seemed the matchup wasrayed as being rough on the Colts, as if the other team had everything to gain, nothing to lose. So, in an effort to ensure the Colts saw things differently, Head Coach Jim Caldwell came up with a euphemism.
Somewhere during the season, it became a season-long them: The Colts, Caldwell told players again and again, should be the hunters, and very much not the hunted.
"No matter what the situation was, our mentality was when they came in here, we were going to get after those guys, so I think that was good," Brackett said Thursday afternoon as the AFC Champion Colts (16-2) prepared to play the NFC Champion New Orleans Saints (15-3) in Super Bowl XLIV at Sun Life Stadium in South Florida on Sunday, February 7.
"I think in the movie 'A Bronx Tale,' there was one little bar scene where guys were acting up in a bar and the bartender asked them to leave nicely, but they didn't leave. So he ended up locking the door and said, 'Now you can't leave.'
"I think that's been our mentality the whole year: no matter what the situation is coming into the game, I think once you get on that field, that's how we feel, we want to get after people."
From Caldwell's words came a season-long theme, and as the Colts prepare for their second Super Bowl in four seasons, Caldwell and Brackett said that mentality should carry forward:
Be the aggressor. Set the tone.
Control the situation and very much don't be passive.
"Oftentimes when teams come to play us, they always put us in this particular position," Caldwell said, raising a hand above his head. "They shoot at us. We get their best, week in and week out. That's how the way it is."
That, Caldwell said, can take a toll mentally.
"You can get the feeling that everybody's coming to get you," Caldwell said. "Oftentimes, what you read in the media is, 'Boy, you're facing a team that is backed into the corner. How are you going to go down to such and such a place and play these guys? They've won two in a row or lost three in a row, etc.' Oftentimes, people think that that's some kind of an advantage for them, because of the fact that they're angry and they're focused on us."
Caldwell said he saw no reason to let that be the theme for Colts players each week.
"I wanted to reverse that," Caldwell said. "I always say, 'Listen, we want to be the hunters and not the hunted,' so that we have something to shoot for, too, so that we have something to go after them for in terms of making certain that we play hard and that we're aggressive and that we have a pretty large stake in this ballgame as well."
In other words, "Stay hungry?"
"Stay hungry," Caldwell said, nodding.
Brackett said the saying in a very real sense has come to define the Colts' defense, which players said throughout this season has been a more-aggressive, more-attacking unit than years past.
"Just what it says, 'You want to get after people,' " Brackett said. "No matter what situation it is, you want to make sure for 60 minutes, they're going to recognize and they're going to leave saying, 'Wow, that Colts defense, they really get after it.' So that's what we want."
Brackett said the mindset is intertwined with another fundamental belief of Caldwell's, and that's that having a fresh team is a major priority. It's difficult, Brackett said, for a mentally- or physically-tired team to be an attacking team. Caldwell throughout the season has said he would rather sacrifice a bit of practice to maintain freshness and energy.
"You're able to be aggressive when you have a fresh team," Brackett said. "You're able to be aggressive when guys have stuff left in the tank. You can't call man coverage when guys are tired and out there on the island. Because of how he takes care of our bodies, we're fresh out there, so we have a full gamut of defenses that we can call and guys don't have that mental fatigue or those tired legs that can't accomplish the defense that's going to be called."
Caldwell on Thursday said the Colts are as fresh as possible considering the Super Bowl will be their 23rd game of the season including preseason, regular season and postseason. But Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden said however fresh the Colts may be just one thing matters by now.
"Who says that we'll be back?" Hayden said. "You play for these games, so as a player, tomorrow's not guaranteed. It's a physical game and you never know when your time is up.
"You want to take this as seriously as possible, but you want to enjoy the moment."
The Colts issued an injury report on Thursday with the following players listed as full participation in practice: RBs-Joseph Addai (shoulder), Donald Brown (foot) and Mike Hart (ankle), LBs-Gary Brackett (knee) and Ramon Humber (knee), DBs-Aaron Francisco (hand) and Jamie Silva (hand), OTs-Ryan Diem (elbow), Charlie Johnson (foot) and Tony Ugoh (knee), DT-Antonio Johnson (shoulder), DE-Robert Mathis (shoulder), OG-Jamey Richard (shoulder), K-Adam Vinatieri (right hip) and WR-Reggie Wayne (knee).
DB-Antoine Bethea (back) and TE-Jacob Tamme (ankle) were listed as limited participation, while DBs-Melvin Bullitt (knee) and Jerraud Powers (foot) and DE-Dwight Freeney (ankle) were listed as did not participate in practice.