INDIANAPOLIS – Donnie Avery entered the NFL as the first receiver taken in the 2008 draft, going in the second round to St. Louis as the 33rd overall selection.
Avery experienced success right away. He started 12 of 15 games and finished second on the Rams with 53 receptions for 674 yards, and his three scoring receptions tied veteran Torry Holt for the team lead.
Avery's reception total was one shy of the club mark that was set 12 years earlier, and he came back in 2009 intent on keeping the arrow on his career graph pointing up. He did so by snaring 47 passes in 16 starts, amassing 589 yards and five touchdowns.
Avery's receptions ranked second on the team, but his yardage and scoring receptions topped the Rams. It was a fine career start that showed 100 receptions for 1,263 yards and eight touchdowns on a squad that was trying to make an impact in the NFC West.
Avery's career was stalled by a knee injury during the 2010 preseason. He missed the entire year and was waived during the last preseason. Avery joined Tennessee after the 2011 season was underway, and he caught three passes over eight games in a role explained early on as one that would be in a reserve capacity.
Avery now is among the 50 new faces on a Colts roster that numbers 90 players, and he has been participating in spring work regularly, and at full speed. He feels very good about where he is physically.
"It feels great. I've got the speed back out there," said Avery. "I'm coming into this year not worrying about an ACL injury, so I feel good out there.
"The confidence is coming back. I definitely feel comfortable. You don't have to worry about planting (your leg in the turf). You're just out there playing naturally, and I like it."
Rookies in this league often comment about the adjustment it takes to the speed of the NFL. Avery feels there is the same type of proving process when coming off an injury.
"Yes, it is about the same. Think about it, I've been out a year and some change," said Avery. "It's all about getting your foot memory back, getting the joints back. You have to get the memory back in those areas. There is a lot of cutting and during the season, we have to make a lot of unorthodox cuts in our routes. It takes a toll on the joints, and you have to get that back."
Avery went through staff changes in St. Louis that affected his career. After joining the Titans last year after the season started and having to learn a new playbook, the chances for major contributions were limited, though he enjoyed his time there.
With Indianapolis having a regime change in 2012, Avery liked how Head Coach Chuck Pagano expressed the chance for opportunity with the Colts. It was the friendly nature of the conversation that helped Avery select Indianapolis over four other teams, and he has been at ease with the offense being installed.
"It's a great fit for me. I'm glad in this scheme that we're running a lot of three-to-five receiver sets. Everyone has the opportunity to get the ball," said Avery. "It's an offense where you have to defend the whole field. I like it. We're going to give defenses problems."
Avery was dedicated for his return to the game. He trained with Olympic track coach Alan Powell during last year's lockout, running 100- and 200-yard dashes at full speed for a hopeful return to the level that saw him post a blistering 40-yard dash time when coming out of college.
It was the notion of stretching the field that inclined Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson to sign Avery in March.
"That's the idea," said Grigson. "He ran a 4.27 (40-yard dash) coming out (of college). He's always been a fast guy. He was the first receiver taken. He's had considerable production early on in his career and, of course, he as well as we (do), hope he gets back to that level. … He's a very viable candidate to come in and contribute immediately."
Avery has been toiling throughout the spring with his teammates, some of whom did not realize he was coming off an injury of the nature he incurred two years ago. Cornerback Jerraud Powers has worked against Avery and was unaware of the previous injury. He sees a gifted target.
"His talent jumped out quickly. It doesn't take him long to get his speed going," said Powers. "Donnie runs good routes. He catches the ball well. He does all the little things right. He's definitely going to be a big-play guy for us.
"I didn't even realize he was hurt (previously). You can't tell. He has run by me a couple of times. The guy is out there running in pure form. His confidence is sky high. You can tell by the way he carries himself on the field. His confidence is fine."
Avery likes how he feels physically, and he is bullish on how he believes he can write a successful story for the remaining part of his career.
"I feel a lot stronger. I've put on some muscle weight, and I'm a lot more durable than I was in St. Louis. I feel I can stretch a defense," said Avery. "My career still is young. It's (the injury time) been a little pause in my career, just a short chapter. I'm ready to get it back, start playing and getting the career going upward.
"It's (his career) a journey. It's like Coach (Pagano) said earlier this year, 'Everybody has a legacy. Is it a good legacy, or a bad legacy?' I feel like I am in my legacy and will see how it turns out. I think my legacy is still out there."