INDIANAPOLIS – Anthony Castonzo is a Chicago-area native who ventured to Boston College to play his collegiate football.
After starring for the Eagles in a decorated career, Castonzo was selected by Indianapolis in the 2011 draft as the 22nd player taken overall.
Castonzo has started seven contests at left tackle in his rookie season. His eighth starting nod will come in a familiar geographic region. It will be in a venue he has entered before, but one in which he never has competed in live play.
"I did not," said Castonzo when asked on Wednesday if he ever had played in Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots. "We actually practiced there a couple of times when the weather was real bad. Other than that, I never actually went to one of the games. It's going to be great. Obviously, I've been playing in front of some great crowds here at Lucas (Oil Stadium). It's going to be a pretty cool game."
Castonzo, like all NFL rookies this year, did not have the benefit of off-season work with his new team. Training camp was the first full-scale immersion for him into the playing and organizational culture. He emerged from camp as the starting left tackle, a spot he anchored until early in the fourth game at Tampa Bay. Castonzo incurred an ankle injury that cost him four games. He has returned to start the last three contests for Indianapolis.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell has overseen the mentoring of Castonzo as he has been indoctrinated into the club's offense. Despite Castonzo missing action, Caldwell has seen the progression, and he likes Castonzo's dutiful approach.
"He's a very talented guy who I think has had a lot of bright spots during the course of the year, but he's also had some of his ups and downs, too," said Caldwell. "It's a difficult game, and you have a little different challenge every week with some of the different fronts that you face and the different people that are involved in those. I think he's been able to adjust well. Obviously, he missed some time, but I think we all feel very good about the future with him. He's a smart, hard-working individual that does a great job of getting himself ready to play."
Though he never attended games in Gillette Stadium, Castonzo was a viewer of previous Colts-Patriots games. Now, he will have a front-row seat.
"They're a very good team historically, as are we," said Castonzo. "It's always a good match-up. I've always seen it, and now I get to play in it, so it's very cool. It's exciting. Every year it seems like it's a great game, and I would expect nothing less. Records aside, it's kind of like a rivalry game, so it should be very exciting."
Castonzo and his teammates on the offensive line will be playing with a third starting quarterback this Sunday. Veteran Kerry Collins opened the year before leaving after three games with a season-ending concussion. Curtis Painter started the next eight games, and the club is turning to seventh-year veteran Dan Orlovsky this Sunday. Orlovsky worked with the club in camp and has appeared in three games this season in relief of Painter. Castonzo will focus on his role while helping the offense attack a talented New England defense.
"I think we all just kind of focus on our own job," said Castonzo. "My job is to protect the passer, to block people in the run game. That's all I'm really worried about. It doesn't really matter what's going on around us. (I am) very comfortable (with Orlovsky). Definitely, he's a veteran guy. He's been in the league a long time. He knows how to run the offense. I've got a lot of confidence in him. I think he can get the job done."
At Boston College, Castonzo was a player who got the job done. After starting his freshman season at right tackle, he shifted to the left side for the final 40 starts of his career. Among his honors was an All-American third-team selection by the Associated Press in his senior season, along with being a first-team all-conference choice. Castonzo holds a degree in biochemistry, and he was a Rhodes Scholarship candidate. All of that readied him for how he would prepare to play football at its highest level.
On the opposing sideline on Sunday will be New England Head Coach Bill Belichick. Belichick was familiar with Castonzo's collegiate career and has monitored his early professional action.
"We saw a lot of him. I think that he's like a lot of rookie tackles, and we have one (OT-Nate Solder)," said Belichick. "It's a tough position to play. You see a lot of different match-ups out there. Guys that are power rushers, guys that are speed rushers, guys that are technique guys, different looks on defense, games and all those kind of things. I can't imagine he's seen anything in the league that's any tougher to block than the two guys (Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis) on the Colts. He's got good size. He's a good athlete, and he's a smart guy. I know he missed a couple of games there in the middle part of the season with, I think it was the ankle injury, but he's back.
"I think the thing I see with Castonzo, as the game goes along he continues to get better. Sometimes something happens early in the game that he's not quite ready for, or it's a new thing or he just hasn't had enough experience playing against certain players or certain situations. But I see him get better as the game goes along pretty much in every game, which I think is a good sign that the player is smart, that he understands how he can match-up against that particular rusher or scheme that they're using and how to continue to improve through the course of the game in competitive opportunities. I think he's done a good job and he's gone up against some good players. Like I said, I'm sure blocking those guys (Freeney and Mathis) in practice is great experience for him."
Any time a player returns to his home area, there is an issue in accommodating family. Castonzo will use a family member to coordinate the process so his focus can remain where it needs to be.
"I have to get in contact with my dad and see how many tickets people are asking for," said Castonzo. "I'm not sure what the number is yet. There will be a good number of people there. My brother actually is coming in from California and bringing some people. … There are going to be a lot of people from my college, people I went to college with and people I know from the area, who are going to be at the game. That makes it pretty special.
"I'm really excited about it. Regardless of who we're playing and where I'm going, it's an opportunity to get our first win, and that's exciting in itself."