Thursday, September 16, 2010
By Tom Pedulla, USA TODAY
August 29, 2010
Anthony Gonzalez went through training camp last year as the heir apparent to Marvin Harrison, the Indianapolis Colts' all-time leading receiver.
Now, after a knee injury ended an expected breakthrough season in less than one quarter, he finds himself locked in a battle for playing time with young teammates who caught on during on his absence.
"You go through a whole host of emotions," Gonzalez says of his lost season. "I realized for me to be happy, I need to be playing on Sundays."
Yet the only certainty as the defending AFC champions sweat their way through toward the start of the regular season is that quarterback Peyton Manning, as often as he throws, cannot possibly keep everyone satisfied.
Reggie Wayne, a Pro Bowler each of the last four years, commands Manning's attention as he aims to surpass 1,000 receiving yards for the seventh consecutive season. So does Dallas Clark, who holds franchise records for catches (356) and touchdowns (41) by a tight end.
Then there are the young talents who made the most of their expanded opportunities. Pierre Garcon, a sixth-round choice from Mount Union in 2008, exceeded all expectations with 47 grabs for 765 yards and four TDs. He was an even greater force in the postseason, pulling in 21 passes for 251 yards and two scores.
Austin Collie, a fourth-round pick from Brigham Young, paced all first-year receivers with seven touchdowns. He tied the Minnesota Vikings' Percy Harvin for most receptions with 60 and generated 676 yards.
Gonzalez (6-0, 193) was Indianapolis' first-round draft choice from Ohio State in 2007 as the Colts saw age overtaking once-speedy Harrison. He did not produce 1 yard in 2009. He injured ligaments in his right knee while blocking in the first quarter of a season-opening 14-12 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He initially did everything possible to recover without having surgery, and the Colts, well aware of his potential impact, left open the door by keeping him inactive for the next 13 games.
Much to Gonzalez's frustration, intensive treatment was able to reduce swelling in his knee only to have it return upon increased exertion. He finally had arthroscopic surgery during the first week of November and eventually realized that only an extended rest would ensure a complete recovery. The Colts placed him on injured reserve on Christmas Eve.
Gonzalez, whose 57 catches for 664 yards and four touchdowns in 2008 represented a promising step after a 37-catch, 576-yard rookie season, is exactly where he wants to be. From a physical standpoint, that is.
"I certainly don't feel like anything is lost. I don't feel my speed is gone. I don't feel like my quickness and agility are gone," he says. "If anything, everything is better.
"I put in more work this offseason and made more sacrifices."
Jim Caldwell is taking notice.
"He's been doing very well. He's really come along," the second-year head coach says. "He understands the offense well. He's catching the ball well. He prepares well."
While Caldwell realizes he has more receivers than he can accommodate with starting roles, he views that as far more of an asset than a problem as the Colts bid to extend their NFL record by producing an eighth consecutive season with at least 12 victories.
They also are eager to rebound from a 31-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.
"This league, no matter how you stack it up, it's a passing league," Caldwell says. "A lot of guys have made a lot of money on third down. You like to have as many weapons as possible."
Gonzalez acknowledges that the situation troubled him before he finally came to grips with it.
"A week before camp, I said, 'If I keep thinking about this, I'm going to drive myself crazy.' Worrying about getting only five reps while somebody else has seven reps, I'm not going to do that."
Gonzalez says everyone involved is doing everything possible to keep it a healthy competition that will ultimately benefit the team.
"I'm not sure it's like this everywhere, but nobody is vindictive, nobody is sabotaging anybody," he says. "We're all just showing up and putting our best game on tape.
"At the end of the day, none of us has a say, so there is no point worrying about it."