TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) – Forgive Jim Caldwell if his stomach churns a little more than usual Friday night. It’s understandable.

After 28 seasons coaching college teams and nine more as a pro assistant, the Colts’ new coach will finally fulfill his lifelong dream and lead an NFL team onto the field for a game.

“I’m certain there will be some butterflies. I think anybody involved in competition feels that way,” the new Colts coach said. “But, honestly, I really haven’t thought about what it will be like out there.”

He’s been too busy to reflect on the new expectations, such as another 12-win season, another playoff appearance and another Super Bowl run.

Instead, Caldwell has been buried in two-a-day practices and taken endless questions about injuries, position battles and the differences between himself and the retired Tony Dungy. This week, Caldwell hunkered down at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology to break down Minnesota, a team with a quarterback competition now that the Brett Favre circus isn’t coming to town.

And after a yearlong apprenticeship as the Colts’ head coach-in-waiting, Caldwell realizes all eyes will be on him.

“I think everybody is trying to get to know him as a head coach and I’m no different,” three-time league MVP Peyton Manning said. “I certainly know him as my quarterbacks coach. But when he’s in a new role as a head coach there is always a transition there and some things that are new. I think we’ll get to know more of his leadership style throughout training camp and then as the season unfolds.”

Also Friday night, it’s Cincinnati at New Orleans, Denver at San Francisco, and St. Louis at the New York Jets.

Caldwell’s debut has turned a usually meaningless preseason opener into something more significant.

Manning and most of the established starters are expected to leave before the end of the first quarter. Eleven players, including five Colts starters, will sit out with injuries. Bob Sanders, the NFL’s 2007 defensive player of the year, remains on the physically unable to perform list and also will miss the game.

But fans will get their first chance to see the Colts’ new defense and their first look at Caldwell running the team since December 2005, when he replaced the grieving Dungy for one game after Dungy’s son died.

“I think it is going to be slightly different Friday,” said linebacker Gary Brackett, Indy’s defensive captain. “But I think Coach Caldwell is really coming into his own.”

The Vikings have questions, too. For one, how will they handle the quarterback situation?

Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels have battled throughout training camp for the starting job. Jackson held it part of last season when Minnesota won the NFC North.

But Jackson injured his left knee early in camp and Rosenfels, an offseason acquisition, is still getting acclimated to the playbook.

Things haven’t gone as smoothly as hoped, so both could see extended playing time at Indianapolis.

“I feel like I’ve gotten better. I’ve tried to improve every day,” Rosenfels said. “I feel like I have done that, and I feel like I still have a lot of room for improvement, as does every single guy on our offense.”

Rosenfels may have one advantage. He faced the Colts’ old defense twice last season.

The problem? Indy forced Rosenfels into three turnovers in the final five minutes, helping the Colts rally from a 17-point deficit to a 31-27 victory in October.

Rosenfels isn’t the only one eager to get started.

“We get to hit somebody else, finally get a chance to tackle fully,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. “The preseason is what it is. It’s like going to prom with your sister, and I imagine that wouldn’t be that fun.”

The Colts would agree. Despite holding the NFL record with six straight 12-win seasons, they have gone just 8-18 in the preseason during that span and are 3-15 over the last four years in preseason action.

Still, Caldwell wants to win his first game.

“It is something that would be a little bit different for us,” Caldwell said, laughing. “But nevertheless, our objective is still to win.”


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