**Colts Wide Receiver Group Could be Strongest in Some Time, Caldwell Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Jim Caldwell likes what he sees at the wide receiver position.
And while Caldwell, entering his second season as the Colts' head coach, said that's true of what he saw last season on the field, it goes deeper than that.
Reggie Wayne. Pierre Garcon. Austin Collie.
All played key roles at the spot last season, and Caldwell said this week at the NFL's Annual Meetings he expects Anthony Gonzalez – a first-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft who missed much of this past season with an injury – to contribute in a big way this season, too.
The result is a deep, talented position.
Very, very, deep and talented, Caldwell said.
"We're in a situation we haven't been in since (2004) when we had three receivers over 1,000 yards, Brandon Stokley, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne," Caldwell said this week at the AFC coaches breakfast at the Annual Meetings at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, Fla.
That 2004 group put together a memorable season – not only one of the best receiving seasons in Colts history, but in NFL history.
Harrison, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection from 1999-2006, caught 86 passes for 1,113 yards and 15 touchdowns, with Wayne – who has made the Pro Bowl the last four seasons – registering the first of six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with 77 receptions for 1,210 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Stokley, who had signed with the Colts as a free agent in 2003, had the best of his four seasons with the team, catching 68 passes for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Quarterback Peyton Manning set the then-NFL record with 49 passing touchdowns in a single season, but Stokley, Harrison and Wayne became the first trio of receivers from one team in NFL history to finish a season with double-digit touchdowns and 1,000 yards receiving.
Only Wayne remains from that group, but Caldwell said the group of Garcon, Collie, Wayne and Gonzalez rivals the 2004 trio.
"That was a good group," Caldwell said. "This group is as talented."
With Wayne, Collie and Garcon handling most of the receiving duties this past season, their performances broke down as follows:
· Wayne turned in his second 100-reception season in the past three seasons, catching 100 passes for 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught three game-winning touchdowns in the fourth quarter of Colts victories – against San Francisco, New England and Jacksonville. He caught 16 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown in the post-season.
· Garcon, a sixth-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft from Mount Union, started the final 13 games he played, catching 47 passes for 765 yards and four touchdowns. Garcon caught 21 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns in the post-season, including 11 receptions for 151 yards and a touchdown in the AFC Championship Game against the New York Jets.
· 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. He caught 17 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns in the post-season, including seven for 123 yards and a touchdown in the AFC title game.
That came after the season began with Gonzalez having moved into the starting role opposite Wayne after the off-season release of Harrison. But in the first half of the season opener, Gonzalez sustained a knee injury and did not play again.
Caldwell said during the league meetings he expects Gonzalez to play a key role this season.
"I don't think Gonzalez is quite where he'd like to be, but by the time we get rolling he'll be there," he said.
And while just who will play where has been a primary off-season question among fans and media, Caldwell said this week it will be a positive issue to solve. The Colts, he said, will look for ways to get all four wide receivers involved, and the idea will be to do it without sacrificing contributions from tight end Dallas Clark, who caught 100 passes this past season and was a consensus All-Pro selection.
The reality, Caldwell said, is that during upcoming mini-camps, organized team activities and training camp, the Colts' receiver situation will be a competitive one.
"Obviously, we're not going to take Dallas Clark off the field, either," Caldwell said. "Obviously, it's a great situation to have. We feel at some point we're going to have some competition to see who fits where, and that's what we'll do.
"I anticipate some good, healthy competition. As much as we throw the ball, we'll find a place. If they're all healthy and ready to go, we'll find a place."
And while the Colts rarely in past seasons have utilized four wide receiver formations, Caldwell said during the annual meetings that was a possibility. Under former offensive coordinator Tom Moore and under new coordinator Clyde Christensen – the receivers coach since 2002 – the Colts have had a reputation for utilizing offensive talent in whatever way best emphasizes the strength of the player, and Caldwell said that will continue be the case.
"You think I'm kidding," he said, referring to the possibilities of playing Gonzalez, Wayne, Garcon and Collie at the same time. "But I'm also half serious about it, too, because if that proves to be the case, maybe that could happen in some cases."