Manning: "We Have Chance to Be As Deep As We Ever Have Been With Receivers"
INDIANAPOLIS – As Pierre Garcon sees it, the problem is not a problem at all.
Garcon, a third-year wide receiver, said it is certainly true that his position is a deep one – perhaps as deep as any position on the Colts – and it's true that it got deeper with the return of a high-profile veteran this off-season.
While that's true, Garcon said this much is, too.
Depth in the NFL is a good thing.
And that means the Colts' wide receivers are in as good a position as they could be.
"We're very deep," Garcon said recently during the Colts' organized team activities, four weeks of on-field, team-oriented work that is scheduled to conclude Friday. "Everybody on our receiving corps can make a play anytime.
"It's wherever coach puts us at, we have to make a play happen."
The Colts' wide receivers did that a year ago, starting with the player second-year veteran Austin Collie called "our head guy."
That's wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
Wayne, entering his 10th NFL season, caught 100 passes this past season for 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns, making his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, and emerging as a veteran leader of an otherwise young, inexperienced group.
Wayne had more than 1,000 yards receiving for a sixth consecutive season, and three times had game-winning touchdown receptions in the fourth quarter of Colts victories – against San Francisco, New England and Jacksonville.
While Wayne enhanced his status as one of the NFL's best receivers, for the other Colts receivers who played extensively, the season wasn't about maintaining big-time status, but finding a role in an offense that is perennially one of the NFL's best.
The two players aside from Wayne that played extensively at receiver for the Colts last season found their roles, and did so in a fashion that exceeded the expectations of many observers.
Garcon, a sixth-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft from Mount Union, played sparingly except on special teams as a rookie, catching four passes for 23 yards. He moved into a starting role opposite Wayne following an injury to wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, starting the final 13 games he played and catching 47 passes for 765 yards and four touchdowns.
Austin Collie, a fourth-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft from Brigham Young, emerged as one of the NFL's top rookie receivers, playing a key role as a slot receiver and catching 60 passes for 676 yards and seven touchdowns.
As a group, the trio caught 207 passes for 2,705 yards and 21 touchdowns, an increase in each category from 2008, when Wayne, Gonzalez and eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marvin Harrison combined to catch 199 passes for 2,445 yards and 15 touchdowns.
"I definitely think we're a talented unit, with our head guy, Reggie – obviously he's phenomenal," Collie said. "And it just goes down from there. I think all of us can produce and make plays."
A productive group could get deeper next season with the return of Gonzalez, who missed the last 15 games of last season with a knee injury. Gonzalez caught 37 passes for 576 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie in 2007, then caught 57 passes for 664 yards and four touchdowns in 2008.
"It's good," Garcon said of Gonzalez's return. "It's more playmakers on the field for us. He takes some of the defense away from us and that's a good thing. . . . It's one more guy who can help me get open, one more guy who can help the team totally. As he gets better, the team gets better and we all get better."
Gonzalez said it's his belief that each of the receivers is competing at a high level with the idea of earning playing time in a talented, deep rotation.
"The thing is everybody had such great years last year, so it will be interesting to see," Gonzalez said. "I don't know what is going to happen. I've been told that I'm going to have the opunity to compete for my job again, and that's all that I really want is an opportunity. That's all I've ever wanted.
"I think every one of the receivers is going to prepare like crazy and 'earn that spot,' whatever it is. That's kind of my approach."
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning last week compared the group to the 2003-04 receiver corps of Harrison, Wayne, Brandon Stokley and Troy Walters. In 2004, Harrison, Wayne and Stokley each had more than 1,000 yards receiving with double-digit touchdowns.
"I wouldn't tag it as a problem," Manning said. "I think we have a chance to be as deep as we ever have been with receivers. I'd say close to Marvin, Stokley, Reggie, Troy Walters, (that) was a very deep group, and I think even Aaron Moorehead was number five that year and made some deep plays for us.
"Certainly it's got a chance to be a deep group, all guys that bring something a little different to the table. I think there will be some good, healthy competition and we will find ways to get all those guys on the field and working and keeping pressure on the defense.
"You look at other teams in the league adding corners trying to stop passing attacks, and at wide receiver you want to be more efficient, more accurate in the passing game to try and counter that. That will be our goal this year."
Said Garcon, "We're real deep, real deep. We've got playmakers from top to bottom. We know any guy can make a play at anytime. Everyone makes each other better with the competition and competitive efforts going on in practice and in the games."
With such a deep group, Garcon was asked, how do all the receivers stay happy? He smiled.
"He (Manning) will find a way," Garcon said. "Win the game, that'll keep everyone happy."