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Caldwell's Colts maintain the momentum

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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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INDIANAPOLIS

It's almost as if Tony Dungy had never left. The Indianapolis Colts are off to their customary fast start, racing to a 3-0 record for the fifth time in the past seven seasons. The Peyton Manning-led offense remains among the NFL's most prolific entering Sunday's home game against Seattle. The defense is still undersized yet scrappy enough to have kept all three opponents — including Super Bowl XLIII runner-up Arizona — from putting more than 23 points on the scoreboard.
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But make no mistake. These aren't Dungy's Colts any more. Jim Caldwell now walks the Indianapolis sideline. While still a relative unknown nationally, Caldwell is a familiar face to those inside team headquarters. He served as a top offensive assistant under Dungy the past seven years. The two remain close and speak several times a week, with Dungy offering his feedback after watching the Colts play on television. "It's often just philosophical things we talk about," Caldwell said after his team's Friday practice. "He's a great sounding board. It would be foolish not to at least inquire once in a while from someone who has won as many games and knows your situation intimately. But it doesn't mean I'm going to do everything the way he did." That became evident shortly after Caldwell's January promotion when he fired Dungy's defensive coordinator and special teams coach. Caldwell also isn't shy about raising his voice at a player or calling someone out in the media — two methods that were never part of Dungy's low-key style. "He's probably a little more emotional than I am but he is still very much under control," Dungy told FOXSports.com in a telephone interview. "The players are getting to know that." Caldwell, though, hasn't tinkered much with the formula that led Indianapolis to a 92-33 overall record and Super Bowl championship under Dungy's watch. "We've had success here," Colts tight end Dallas Clark said. "It would be kind of selfish for a coach to come in and think, 'I've got a way. This is how we're going to do it. This is my team.' "Coach Caldwell has been around. He understands that when you have a good thing, you don't want to rock the boat so much where it's going to change everything. There are definitely things he wants done his way, but he realized we didn't need a big overhaul." Caldwell's changes included a shift in philosophy on defense, as he wanted new coordinator Larry Coyer to add more wrinkles to what was essentially a pure cover-two scheme. Caldwell also gives players specific bullet points each week for what he wants to see improved. "Every day he comes into our meetings he's telling us some small detail," Colts linebacker Clint Session said. "Everybody is looking around like, 'Oh man, what's going on?' But there's always a good message behind it."
Caldwell, 54, had plenty of preparation before replacing Dungy. A protege of such esteemed college icons as Joe Paterno and Howard Schnellenberger, Caldwell was Wake Forest's head coach from 1993 to 2000. Throughout his coaching career, Caldwell has kept meticulous notes about how his mentors have handled any tricky situations that arose. Caldwell benefited from being named Dungy's heir apparent in January 2008 — a decision made because Indianapolis didn't want to risk losing him to another team after numerous head coaching interviews. The tutelage proved invaluable. Dungy entrusted Caldwell with duties normally reserved for the head coach, like setting the offseason and preseason practice schedules for players. Caldwell was exposed to the inner workings of the Colts' front office, which is a privilege not given to most assistants. He saw how the draft process works in Indianapolis under esteemed team president Bill Polian and the manner in which Dungy handled adversity from player discipline to negative fan mail. "All of that gave him the chance to practice being in those situations without having to make the final decision himself," Dungy said. Although the groundwork was laid for success, the Colts were publicly enshrouded by doubts throughout the offseason. Skeptics believed the transition under Caldwell would go much rougher, especially after the release of future Hall of Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison and the on-again/off-again retirements of key offensive assistants Tom Moore (coordinator) and Howard Mudd (line). Manning even expressed trepidation about how smoothly the adjustment was unfolding. "It was easy for people to say, 'Oh, here it is. It's over for the Colts,'" Clark said. "I think people lost track of the people who are still here." That list includes Manning — the NFL's reigning Most Valuable Player — and two of his favorite receiving targets in Clark and wide receiver Reggie Wayne, both of whom lead the league in catches for their respective position. The Colts also continue to overcome injuries that have sidelined the likes of Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders, middle linebacker Gary Brackett and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez. "You can tell we haven't missed a beat under coach Caldwell," Colts safety Melvin Bullitt said. Manning said he is still getting a feel for Caldwell as a head coach rather than just his quarterbacks coach since 2002. Manning, though, is encouraged by what has transpired so far. "We're getting to know him as each situation comes up whether it's a fourth-and-one, a two-minute drill or something in the course of practice," Manning said. "I know him well as a quarterbacks coach but I don't know him as a head coach. It's like any relationship — it takes time and you learn on the run. It's been fun so far because we've been learning as we've been winning. But we know it's a long season and we've got to keep fighting together. "I will say this: I always thought one of coach Dungy's greatest strengths is that the players here played extremely hard for him. So far, coach Caldwell is getting that out of us. That's a credit to him." And a credit to Dungy for helping to put Caldwell in a position to succeed. "You just can't replace coach Dungy because of what he's done and the spiritual guy that he is," Session said. "But when it comes to getting somebody who's good for the job to fill those shoes, I wouldn't see anybody better than coach Caldwell."
Tagged: Colts, Reggie Wayne, Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett, Bob Sanders, Clint Session, Melvin Bullitt

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