INDIANAPOLIS – The 2011 season was baptism by fire for rookie first-round draft pick Anthony Castonzo.
The 22nd selection overall started 12 games for the Colts in a season when the team struggled to hit a winning pace.
Castonzo reported to training camp after a labor matter truncated off-season practices, and he was thrust into competition against, among others, Pro Bowl ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Castonzo was ticketed for the starting left tackle spot when he was drafted, and he did not disappoint. The Boston College product started the first four and final eight games of the season, missing time only because of an ankle injury suffered in the fourth game at Tampa Bay.
Castonzo's start totals ranked third-most among the club's linemen, behind only center Jeff Saturday and tackle Jeff Linkenbach. Both opened 16 games. Castonzo worked among the seven different starting alignments the team used to get through the season.
Castonzo, like any rookie, had moments of challenge and achievement. He knows what he is looking to accomplish now that his rookie year is behind him.
"I really want to work on my consistency. As a rookie, you get inconsistent sometimes," said Castonzo. "I want to have a nice, consistent set. You can always work on staying lower. No matter what, you can never be too low. I want to work on my hip flexibility, too. My overall game just needs to improve."
Castonzo appreciated being put in the starting lineup to open the season. It is something that has been natural for him since high school. In college, he set a school mark by starting 54 career games. A biochemistry graduate, Castonzo would like to balance certain aspects of his game, but he did see improvements as the season continued.
"The thing I was most pleased with was my progression as the season went on. I thought the last game of the year was my best game of the year, which I was really happy with," said Castonzo. "In terms of what I need to work on, there are always things in your game you can work on. As an offensive lineman, you can always work on being lower in pass sets and run blocking and using your hands better. I am going to work on all aspects of my game moving forward.
"A lot of playing is mental (being) related to physical. You have to really think of what you are going to do with you hands or your feet. It is so much technique involved at this level because everyone is so good and if you make any little mistake, they take advantage of it."
Every collegian takes a step up when reaching the NFL. Even for a player of whom much is anticipated, there are moments of anxiety when competing at the sport's highest level. Castonzo had a web of veteran support in Saturday and guard Ryan Diem. It was Diem he sought for advice when it was needed.
"Ryan Diem helped me a ton, because he played tackle in this league for so long," said Castonzo. "He's actually my next door neighbor, so we were able to talk quite a bit. He let me know what to expect. If I was getting down on myself, he let me know what I needed to do in the NFL to keep myself even-keeled and to really progress. Having Jeff Saturday in the middle as a communicator made my job easier because I knew exactly what we were doing. He was such a good communicator in the middle of the line, so those two guys played an integral role (in my development).
"I'm not ever really pleased with myself, unless I'm playing perfectly. That's what Diem had to talk to me about because everyone in the NFL is really good, too. You're basically never going to be perfect. It was a learning process to accept that every once in a while you're going to get beat, but you have to come back the next play and get right back at it."
While being blunt in his assessment of last season, Castonzo does expect to see improvement in his second season.
"Yes, absolutely. I was thinking the other day how clueless I was going into (training) camp of what to expect," said Castonzo. "There was no off-season work last year, so just how much more prepared I am going into this year, knowing what to expect, knowing what I am going to see in games is really going to help me. I'm looking to make a big jump, for sure."
A native of the Chicago area (Hawthorn Woods), Castonzo played at Boston College. Reared for his first 23 years in or near a big-city environment, he appreciates the size and attributes of Indianapolis living.
"I love it here. I already know my way around the city like the back of my hand," said Castonzo. "I could not tell you how to get around in Chicago, and I can barely tell you how to get around in Boston. Just the fact I know how to get around (is big). I'm in an area that I really like.
"It's a little more relaxed, which is more my scene. It's a perfect place for me. I like to see a balance (rural and city), which Indianapolis is. About 20 minutes north of me are cornstalks and 20 minutes south of me are sky scrapers. It works out nicely. It's the best of both worlds."
Castonzo will have a new scene on the worksite this year. Chuck Pagano was named head coach on January 25. It will be an adjustment for Castonzo and his teammates. Castonzo says he and Pagano share an enthusiasm for the coming season.
"I met Coach (Chuck) Pagano, and I got a really good vibe from him," said Castonzo. "He seems real excited to be here, anxious to get moving forward. I'm right there with him."