Caldwell's come a long way, baby

By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Andy Dufresne crawled through 500 yards of smelly foulness before coming out clean on the other side in 'The Shawshank Redemption'.

Colts rookie head coach Jim Caldwell can sort of relate to that if Wake Forest was considered a maximum-security penitentiary. We all know it's not, of course, since the university is renowned for its academics and is also the alma mater of NBA future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and former NFL running back Brian Piccolo, among others.

Caldwell has his own song to sing now that he's on the verge of possibly capturing another Super Bowl title for the Indianapolis franchise on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. The former head coach of the Demon Deacons has made a smooth transition from quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach, but the journey getting had more wrinkles than the Colts' playbook. Caldwell's time in Winston-Salem made Rich Kotite's tenure in the NFL look respectable, as he compiled a 26-63 mark in eight seasons at Wake Forest. The first African- American head football coach in ACC history had just one winning campaign with the Demon Deacons, who won more than three games only twice under his regime.

Just the fifth rookie head coach to guide his team to the Super Bowl and first in league history to win his first 14 games, Caldwell's career took a turn for the better when he joined mentor Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay in 2001. There, Caldwell passed on his quarterback knowledge and made Brad Johnson a household name. The former Iowa defensive back didn't know at that time he would eventually work with perhaps one of the best signal-callers to grace a football field when he and Dungy relocated to Indy. After years of building a strong rapport with Manning and finally winning Super Bowl XLI, the destitute trek from Wake was finally turning in to the Yellow Brick Road.

Having Manning as your quarterback helps too.

"He has a way of making people around him better. Like a great point guard, he can put the ball in the right place at the right time," Caldwell said of Manning. "He is so accurate that he certainly creates opportunities for people, so I think it kind of works hand-in-hand."

Caldwell has had the luxury of working hand-in-hand with many great quarterbacks in his coaching tenure, but none better than Manning. Kerry Collins at Penn State, Rusty LaRue with the Deacons and the Bucs' Johnson have all achieved success in their time with Caldwell, while Manning is still putting up astronomical numbers. Caldwell has been an instrumental figure in the development of Manning, who owns an NFL-record four MVP awards and several passing marks.

Caldwell and Manning may have to get themselves acclimated with a few new coaches in 2010 due to the uncertain futures of offensive line coach Howard Mudd and offensive coordinator Tom Moore. Both Mudd and Moore retired during this past offseason before owner Jim Irsay saw to it (at Manning's urging) that the two other masterminds of the offense remained intact. After wrestling with pension benefits, retirement income and the government, Mudd and Moore signed back on as consultants and the rest is history. The offensive line may not be the best the Colts have ever had even though they're in the biggest game of the year. The run game has seen better days, but if it wasn't for running back Joseph Addai picking up key yards in an AFC Championship win over the Jets, Indianapolis may not have been getting on that plane in Miami.

"Anytime you get a chance to run the ball well it builds confidence. And having a good running game against the Jets going into the Super Bowl brings confidence not only for the running backs but the whole team," Addai said.

One figure who may not feel so confident is first-year defensive coordinator Larry Coyer. Coyer's defense finished eight in scoring (19.2 ppg), 14th against the pass (212.7 ypg), 18th in yards allowed (339.2 ypg) and 24th against the rush (126.5). Before Coyer can worry about Drew Brees and the Saints' high-powered offense, he needs to get a reading on the status of sack master and All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney. Freeney is reportedly hampered with torn ligaments in his ankle and his status for Sunday is uncertain. Freeney, who finished tied for third in the league with 13.5 sacks this season, suffered the injury against New York a few weeks ago. The potential absence of Freeney will give Brees more time in the pocket and more stress for Coyer and his staff. Perhaps more zone coverage would work if Freeney can only play in certain packages.

At least Coyer has a healthy defensive captain in middle linebacker Gary Brackett. The undersized Brackett had another tackle-filled season under his new coordinator and first-year head coach, and noted how the mentality being the hunter instead of the hunted has worked out in the Colts' favor.

"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."

Staying on the defensive side of the ball secondary coach and former disciple of Dungy from Tampa Bay Alan Williams has his hands full strategy-wise with Brees and his arsenal of receivers. Williams just completed his eighth season as defensive backs coach of the Colts, who'll need solid games from safeties Melvin Bullitt and Antoine Bethea. Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez had a pair of TD passes and 257 yards in the title game, numbers Brees can put up in one half. It's going to be very interesting to see the type of adjustments Indianapolis will make this Sunday against one of the most prolific passing offenses in the NFL.

The league could see another rarity if Caldwell gets to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night. Caldwell would become just the third African- American head coach to win the big game, joining Dungy and the Steelers' Mike Tomlin.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Shawn Clarke at sclarke@sportsnetwork.com.

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