ANDERSON – Anthony Castonzo's rookie season was one of accomplishments and difficulties.
The 22nd pick in the 2011 draft opened the first four and final eight games of the season, but missed a quarter of the year with an ankle injury.
His start total ranked third-most on an offensive line that had seven different game-opening combinations during a tumultuous 2-14 season.
Castonzo grew through the tough year and mended afterwards. He recuperated from his rookie season rigors through the spring and now that he has reported to Anderson University for a second time, he is anchored on the line and ready to roll.
"I feel way better than I did last season when I was playing with the injury," said Castonzo. "I feel a whole heck of a lot better. I'm feeling good, 100 percent going into the season."
Feeling right was a staple of Castonzo's Boston College experience. He set the school mark with 54 career starts and was a senior All-ACC and All-America choice when he served as a team captain and allowed but one sack. One of his rookie successes with the Colts was not being hit with a holding penalty all season.
The recuperative process for Castonzo was tough this spring as a new staff, scheme and teammates arrived, but he stayed sharp mentally until he could return physically.
"It was a little bit of a setback from the standpoint of losing the speed of the game," said Castonzo. "Once you come back the first time, it's, 'Oh, yeah, it's this fast.' You practice on air a lot, but without seeing a guy in front of you it's different. It really didn't hurt me that much (in some regard), because I was conditioning as much as I could. (Sunday) at the first practice, I felt real good out there."
Head Coach Chuck Pagano sees Castonzo as a good package.
"Big, athletic, strong," said Pagano, who looked forward to Castonzo working in pads Tuesday. "I told him (the Tuesday work in pads is) where rubber meets the road. … I've got a good idea of what we're going to see out of Anthony. I love what I see so far. It looks like he's knocked the rust off to this point. Once we get the pads on, I fully expect him to be a mauler and a great pass protector."
"Mauler" is one of the highest compliments that may be made to a lineman. Line coach Harold Goodwin views Castonzo as a solid component on a unit that will feature multiple new starters in 2012.
"I feel pretty good, especially getting (Anthony) Castonzo back," said Goodwin. "Anthony practiced the other day, and he did well. He's good mentally, and he looks pretty good physically. I think he's ready to go. … I think it's huge for Anthony to get back, especially being a competitor. … I think we have a pretty good group. I like our prospects."
Center Samson Satele is a new member of the line. A quiet battler, Satele complimented Castonzo, too.
"He's good. He looks pretty healthy. He's coming off an injury. He's a good dude. He has big feet. Great dude," said Satele.
Castonzo is doing his part to help line cohesion as preseason play approaches. Three newcomers – Satele, tackle Winston Justice and guard Mike McGlynn – seem ticketed for starting duty as well. The group is learning a new scheme, but Castonzo, a biochemistry graduate, is not flustered.
"I think we have a real solid offensive line from tackle-to-tackle," said Castonzo. "Every position is real good, and I don't think we have any weak links, which is awesome. All of the offensive linemen are together. We have our own row in the locker room and we're definitely building a strong bond on and off the field. … The (schemes) are different, but there are only so many schemes you can do in football. It is stuff I have seen before."
Many players have a performance spike in a second season when the game becomes more of a natural fit. Castonzo says he feels like a fish back in water again and knows the mental ease he feels is critical along an offensive line.
"It is 100 percent different. I feel so much better this year with the experience I got. I can feel the difference," said Castonzo. "Everything is familiar. Last year, my head was in a whirlwind. I'm more confident this year, and I feel good about getting better football-wise.
"You have to feel comfortable out there as a group. What's going to happen when you're not thinking? This second year, it's so much easier to go out there and play and not think."
Castonzo will not be the only young performer on offense. He will be shielding rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who was taken 21 spots earlier in this year's draft than Castonzo was selected last season. Castonzo feels Luck is coming along well.
"I would say he's probably ahead of where I was at last year just from the standpoint of the fact that he got the offseason program," said Castonzo. "Last season, we had the lockout. He's already ahead of where I was at this point last year. Definitely, we talk quite a bit before and after practice and he seems to be coming along real well. I just want to see him progress."