NEW YEAR, NEW FEELING

Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, the Colts' first-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, a year ago was doing essentially what he is doing now. He was in Indianapolis for the team's organized training activities.

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Gonzalez More Comfortable Entering Second Season with Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – The difference is as obvious as it is enjoyable.

And for that, Anthony Gonzalez is thankful.

Gonzalez, a second-year wide receiver and the Colts' first-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, this time a year ago was doing essentially what he is doing now. He was in Indianapolis for the team's organized training activities.

But last year, Gonzalez was a rookie. This year, he is a veteran.

A year's difference, yes.

But to Gonzalez, it's all the difference in the world.

"This season, more than anything, I feel like I've been a lot more comfortable," Gonzalez said during the team's organized training activities – or, OTAs – which will continue at the team's training facility through mid-June.

"With that, you can play faster. You don't think as much."

Last May and June, Gonzalez said a case could be made he was thinking a bit too much.

"Last year, I was trying to cram a playbook and finals for school into those couple of weeks," he said. "I remember my last OTA was the first week in June. My last final was three days after that.

"It was one of those things where I was still a student athlete. For better or worse, it held me back a little bit. This year, I'm not dealing with that and I feel like I know all the plays. I know all the guys.

"It's just been a lot more relaxing and fun for me, really."

If last offseason was stressful for Gonzalez, the regular season was as eventful.

Gonzalez not only played extensively as a rookie, and he not only was a key part of one of the NFL's most potent offenses, he did so playing not one, but two positions.

And at one of the positions, he was replacing one of the league's best players.

Gonzalez, who played collegiately at Ohio State, played in 13 games last season, starting nine, with all but one of the starts coming in place of eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who missed 11 games last season with a knee injury.

For Gonzalez, that meant playing part of the season in the slot, the position he played at Ohio State, and the one for which he originally was drafted.

But when replacing Harrison, it meant playing on the outside.

It wasn't an easy task, Gonzalez said.

But he said by season's end, it was a task that helped him dramatically.

"More than anything, that helped just from learning the offense," Gonzalez said. "If you get pigeon-holed as a slot guy, you might take shortcuts learning the playbook, and only learn the slot. You know you're not going to have to play outside, so it forced me to get in my playbook that much more in-depth and learn the whole thing as opposed to taking a little chapter out of it."

Gonzalez, known around the Colts as one of the team's more focused, studious players, smiled and added, "I was probably doing it anyway, but it's different actually running them (the plays) as opposed to asking myself, 'OK, on this particular play, what does the guy on the outside do?' That's one thing. Actually hearing the call – maybe it's even audibled to, then running it – that's something totally different.

"The more senses you use to learn something, the easier it is to learn," he added. "If you read it, hear it, touch it, smell it, taste it – all of a sudden, you know a whole lot about that topic."

Gonzalez's desire to learn the offense was obvious to Colts coaches and officials early. Asked about Gonzalez during last year's OTAs, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy discussed Gonzalez's mindset, and called his attention to detail "unique." Dungy said last season that the young wide receiver had to be careful to not become frustrated, so intense was his desire to not only learn the offense, but to master it.

"That's just how I am, I guess," Gonzalez said. "I'm taking a Spanish class right now. I expect to be fluent tomorrow. There's just no way it's going to happen, so I guess the same thing could be said about my rookie year. Not that I 'expected,' but I wanted to be as good as anybody else my first day and it probably wasn't realistic, but I took my role, whatever it was, very seriously. And I wanted to be good at it."

This year, Gonzalez said he is "closer" to where he wants to be, but "certainly not there."

"A long way to go, obviously," he said. "I feel like I'm making strides and getting closer."

He began making serious strides last season, particularly late in the year following his return from a thumb injury sustained against New England on November 4.

Gonzalez said he spent the first half of the season waiting for a chance to make an impact, and said he thought entering the New England game that was to be the week. He sustained the injury early in the game, and missed the next two games.

"To have a setback kind of slowed me down a little but at the same time, it allowed me to take stock of where I was as a player and come back a little stronger, hopefully," Gonzalez said. "I feel like I did that to a certain extent.

"I remember asking Mr. (Colts President Bill) Polian at practice when I was hurt, 'Give me two or three guys that you would say I should study during these weeks I'm out.' He gave me a couple of guys, and that's what I did. I threw on their film and watched a couple of people play, then I watched ourselves. I watched all of the snaps I'd taken at that point and tried to kind of hone it in a little bit.

"I feel like I got better from that. There's a long way to go, obviously, but I think that was part of what helped me."

Gonzalez returned from a two-week absence to catch six passes for 105 yards in a Thanksgiving Night victory over Atlanta, his first NFL 100-yard game. Two weeks later, in a Sunday Night victory over Baltimore, he caught six passes for 134 yards and his first two NFL touchdowns.

A week after that, he helped the Colts clinch their fifth consecutive AFC South title with a 20-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders.

In those games, as he did in every game he played after his injury, he played mostly on the outside, which he said did more than just help him learn the offense.

"I'm not a big chip-on-my-shoulder type of guy, but coming out college, all I heard was I was only a slot guy and could not play outside – no matter what," Gonzalez said. "I always look at the opunities I have outside as chance to kind of prove those people wrong, whoever those people are. You never want to be pigeonholed. In college, I played in the slot for a variety of reasons.

"I think if you asked our coaches (in college), they wouldn't have said, 'Well, he can't play outside.' It was, 'He doesn't play outside.'''

Gonzalez finished the season with 37 receptions for 576 yards and three touchdowns, catching 22 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns in his final five regular-season games. When Harrison returned in the team's playoff loss to San Diego, Gonzalez played as the third receiver, catching four passes for 79 yards and a 55-yard touchdown.

"You can always get better at something," Gonzalez said. "I just know technically there are different things I need to do better. Technically, I'm not as sound in all the areas I need to be sound. If you listen to Coach Dungy, he'll tell you technique is pretty much the game of football. It just boils down to techniques. I believe that. That's pretty much where I'm at. Once I feel better about my technique, I'll feel better about myself as a player.

"At what point do you say your technique is perfect? You don't. There's always something to work on. I don't care who you are. Techniques are things that certainly can get better. You can always get better. It's not a matter of something that can't be done. You just have to put in the work."

THE WIDE RECEIVERS

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