ANDERSON – The day after his team dropped its preseason opener at St. Louis, a game where starters appeared briefly in the first quarter and a total of 79 players saw action, Head Coach Jim Caldwell mentioned he expects Colts fans will see improvements in the younger players and the team overall in this Friday's outing against Washington.
Caldwell cautioned for judgments to wait since gains in preseason can be measured in increments.
"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. The practices leading up to our next game against Washington are going to be huge."
Caldwell's words were not just day-after 'coach-speak.' Linebacker and team captain Gary Brackett and tight end Dallas Clark were out there with their veteran cohorts in St. Louis before spending more than the final three quarters watching younger players and rookies perform.
Brackett and Clark saw the results, both good and challenging. After Monday's practice at Anderson University, both sounded like Caldwell as they stressed the need for work by the whole squad and for the excitement of a new chance this Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"Obviously we have a lot of work to do," said Brackett. "We just want to get back to playing some sound football, get better in our run defense and try to create some turnovers. We played a lot of snaps out there (against St. Louis) and didn't get a sack or a turnover so we definitely want to get better in those areas."
Brackett yielded his spot to others, but saw a performance that can get better this week. He mentioned areas for defensive improvement.
"I just think communication," he said. "There were a lot of mental mistakes out there, guys not lining up properly so those things you can fix. You just want guys to be comfortable out there lining up and playing well."
The game at St. Louis was much more of a trial by fire for the younger players than it usually is. Those players did not have the typical benefit of off-season work. Now, they are being asked to learn quicker and grow faster.
"I think it probably hurts the younger guys, not really having that time in the summer to really get acclimated to the system and having everything thrown at them in training camp," said Brackett. "I think guys fought well. A couple guys had a good game, so I think we just have to continue to grow. I think K.T. (Kevin Thomas) stepped up. Thomas had a good game and John Chick had a good game as well. Some of the young (defensive) tackles, I think Drake (Nevis) saw some good things from him being physical in his gap so guys just have to continue to grow."
Clark played for the first time since injuring his wrist last October. The ninth-year pro thoroughly enjoyed returning to the field.
"I wasn't as nervous as I thought I was going to be. I just got excited," said Clark. "I did not want to come out. It was so much fun, just for everything that has gone on since the injury (last October), just all the hard work (and) everyone that has been part of it. It was just preseason, but it was a small victory, and I was happy to be back out there with my teammates."
Clark was an observer like Brackett for more than 45 minutes of play. He saw some good and bad.
"There are some mistakes that we shouldn't make, but then there's also a lot of good things," he said. "That's what the first preseason game, the first time out there (with) a lot of new players out there…you've got to focus on the positives, correct the negatives and build on the positives. We have a short week and (we need to) correct them quickly and come out and improve each game."
Quarterbacks Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky saw most of the action, and Clark commented on their play and that of rookie offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo.
"They (Painter and Orlovsky) did well," said Clark. "They know what they have to do to get better. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, but that's never the case where you're going to come out and play a perfect game. That's why we practice so much. That's why we play the game, and it was just good to get out there against someone else besides our defense. You get different looks and different players. So, it was positives all the way around.
"I think Anthony (Castonzo) did a really good job blocking. I think he's had a lot of ups and downs as we all have during camp but as a rookie, they're a little more extreme because you don't see the light quicker than the veterans. If you make a mistake as a veteran you kind of know what you have to do, but as a rookie you just kind of feel like the whole world is crumbling around you. But for him to go out there, he had some really good blocks and just did a really good job, so he's the one that jumped out."
Clark agrees with Caldwell that there can be measured growth in rookies in their second outing. He thinks the more at-bats with NFL competition, the better the results.
"Especially for the rookies, just to have that game under their belt is huge," said Clark. "To go back out there and understand that it's just exactly how it is in practice. You just have to carry over what you're doing in practice, all the drills, all the techniques that are getting taught, carry those over into games and you'll be fine. The more experience you get, the more the game slows down. That's what really benefits the younger guys playing the second game. That's why I think you naturally see an improvement."
Being relaxed and focused are two things critical for all players, perhaps even more important for younger players. Clark stresses the need for it.
"That's what it comes down to, especially with these young guys who have 1,000 plays running through their head," he said. "The reality is you just have to focus on the play that's called, understand what you have to do, then go play it. Whatever happens, come back and play the next play. Don't think about, 'I messed that up. Man, the coach is going to be mad.' You have another play coming ahead and you have to go out and make the play. The best way to have people forget about a mistake is go out there and do something positive. That's what you have to focus on."
Growth started for the team in Monday's practice. The team works twice on Tuesday, with the 7:30 p.m. practice being in pads. The Colts practice once on Wednesday and Thursday before breaking camp. Brackett knows work comes before anything else.
"I think we just have to continue to get better," he said. "We don't have the luxury right now to think of exit strategies. We're still going to be in the thick of things. You still have to be attentive in the meetings, making sure you communicate with all those younger guys. In our second showing, we want to get better. We want to get better in every week, and that requires us to start here in practice."