By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — For head coaches in the National Football League, the preseason is exactly that.
Won-loss records don’t really mean a whole lot during the month of August. Case in point. A year ago, the Detroit Lions went undefeated in the preseason and then failed to win a game in the regular season.
Another case in point. The Indianapolis Colts have won one game during the preseason each of the last three years and didn’t win a game at all during the 2005 preseason. Yet, the Colts have posted 12 or more wins over the last six regular seasons.
In the NFL, the preseason is a time to experiment a bit with players, to mix and match. To find out if a particular player can play more than one position. How quickly can a player grasp what he is being taught and then put it into use on the practice field? Can the player adjust to the increased speed, tempo of the professional game? Can he play a position different from what he did in college? Is the player a star in practice but a dud in games? Or is he just the opposite, someone who really turns it on when the games start but struggles in practice.
That’s the process that Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell is currently going through. Yes, Thursday night’s 23-15 preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles was nice. It certainly helps in the teaching process. But Caldwell understands that the preseason is still very much an extended evaluation period.
“The [preseason] doesn’t count for much these days, right?” the first-year Colts head coach said Friday. “When the real bullets start flying, well then obviously it’s a little different story. But we’re certainly pleased to end on a positive note in the [Philadelphia] game.
“The positive side of the ledger is important. I think it’s a much better platform to teach from in that regard. To get a win under your belt is a good feeling, regardless. That’s why we play this game. We play because we love to compete and winning is important.”
Still, player evaluation always trumps winning a particular game in the preseason.
“It always [does]. I think, too, that’s one of the reasons why you may see that some teams during the course of preseason that may not win very many games and then end up having a great year. Or some teams that win a lot of games during the preseason and struggle during the year,” Caldwell explained.
“I think that there are certain situations that occur [in the preseason] against teams that, due to injuries and things of that nature, would certainly give you some false impressions. You have to be very, very careful about your assessments [about players] as you move along.”