INDIANAPOLIS – Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, late in the preseason, said that wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez is 'a big play waiting to happen.'
Caldwell is not a man given to exaggeration. Gonzalez is a man driven.
Hopefully, the receiver who caught nearly 100 passes over his first two seasons (2007-08) can return to a playing field he has missed dearly for most of the past two seasons. On Thursday, he felt fine after a full practice the day before.
"That was one of the things we wanted to look for, but I really do feel great," Gonzalez said about wanting to see how his body responded. "We've worked pretty hard in the training room, just making sure we do all the protocols. Everybody is trying to protect me from myself. I tend to be my own worst enemy with these things, but it's gone well. I'm very excited. Practice yesterday felt great. I was kind of curious to see how it would go, and I really do feel like it went well. I'm excited to hopefully get back out there."
Gonzalez opened his career in 2007. He was joining a receiving corps that included Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, as well as potent targets in tight end Dallas Clark versatile running back Joseph Addai.
Gonzalez found time on the field. He started nine of 13 outings and had 37 receptions for 576 yards and three touchdowns. With two 100 outings, he became one of just five Colts rookies ever to achieve the feat. His season-long was a 57-yard touchdown reception at Baltimore, a contest where he scored twice and had six receptions for 134 yards. He added a 55-yard scoring reception against San Diego in the playoffs in finishing off his rookie year.
In 2008, he started two of 16 appearances and had 58 receptions for 664 yards and four scores. He had receptions in every outing, and he was one of four Colts to top 55 receptions as quarterback Peyton Manning distributed the ball around the field in completing 371 passes for 4,002 yards.
Gonzalez's third season included only one quarter of the opener against Jacksonville before his season was halted by a knee injury. His 2010 season may have been even tougher. Gonzalez appeared in two games, both against Houston – the opener and in game seven. He was injured in both games and put on injured reserve in early November with a knee injury. He had five receptions for 67 yards.
Now with a return to the field possible, Gonzalez is excited.
"I'm really looking forward to this week," said Gonzalez. "One thing I've been trying to do is just keep a perspective about everything and to stay hungry and humble. I think I've done it to a certain degree. I'm raring to go, I'm ready."
While his health is trending toward a return, Gonzalez was inactive last week for the opener. It was a frustrating feeling for him.
"One of the more painful things about not being able to play last week was with all that was swirling around our team, all the negativity and everybody saying all these terrible things about us, I really wanted to be there, just to be out there with the guys and kind of battle through that with them," he said. "Not being able to do that really hurt. My thought is I'm fortunate to be able to do it this week. This week is a big week for us, especially the way last week ended. I'm excited. I'm ready and just hope I can help out."
Should he continue to trend toward playing, it will be an emotional moment for a player who wants to play and has had to endure long recovery processes.
"I'm a football player, and it's what I do," said Gonzalez. "I try to play football for the Indianapolis Colts. To not be able to do that for the last two years and again last week, it's frustrating. It really is. But I'm still standing, I can still do some things, and I'm looking forward to it."
Gonzalez hopes to take the field and to do his part in helping the club reverse a difficult outcome in the opener. He would be playing for the first time with veteran quarterback Kerry Collins, who started his first game for Indianapolis last Sunday. Gonzalez likes Collins' progress and is intrigued by working with a new quarterback.
"It's been fun. It's different, obviously," said Gonzalez. "Any kid who gets a new toy, it's always just fun to experiment and kind of go through the process. That's kind of where we're at in a lot of ways. I'll say this, every day he's getting more and more comfortable, and it shows just in the way he goes about his business. It's going to come around for us."
Many of his teammates have been asked this week about the club's slow start and the possibility of success with quarterback Peyton Manning. Gonzalez holds Manning in deep regard, but he feels the same way about his teammates.
"I believe in the guys in this room," he said. "I know them too well to think otherwise. I think everybody probably feels the same way. There's no panic in here (the locker room), I think. I certainly don't feel any."
Gonzalez in training camp said the best part of playing football by far is being able to share the team wins on the field every Sunday. "That's by far the best part of football," he said.
This Sunday he could be playing against his hometown team, and it is a franchise his family has followed for years. Born in 1984, he can remember his family following the franchise through some exciting seasons and playoff games. This week, though, he does not feel any added pressure in facing the Browns.
"Not really. If the game were in Cleveland, then I would have 1,000 ticket requests and all that. Maybe it would mean a little bit more," he said. "But because it's in Indianapolis, and because of what we're going through, for me this is about the Indianapolis Colts. This is about us trying to get our first victory, and this isn't necessarily about anything other than that."