Wayne, Collie and Garcon Help Colts Receivers Remain Among NFL's Best
INDIANAPOLIS – The story was the same and different at the same time.
The Colts' wide receivers, after all, were productive this past season. That has been the case for more than a decade, and as recently has been the case most seasons, they were a huge reason for the Colts' success as a team and as an offense.
It was how the unit succeeded that was different.
Or, more accurately, exactly with whom the unit was successful.
Because while Reggie Wayne again was one of the NFL's top wide receivers, and while he was the unit's most productive player, the season was defined as much by the development of two young, inexperienced players who by season's end played increasingly imant roles.
Austin Collie. Pierre Garcon.
A year ago, neither had started an NFL game, and they had a combined four NFL catches.
And even though each showed signs of development and potential last offseason, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said even the most optimistic observer might not have predicted their impact on the team this past season.
"They have made great strides," Caldwell said late this past season of Collie and Garcon, a key part of the Colts' wide receiver position, which is the subject of this entry in Colts.com's on-going position-by-position look at the 2009 AFC Champions.
"I don't think any of us would have imagined that they would come along so quickly and perform so well consistently," said Caldwell. "I think anyone can have one good game or two games that they string together—doing it back-to-back the way the young guys have done is a bit unusual.
"I think that is a testament to their work ethic. I think it is a testament to their desire to excel at what they do."
Collie, Garcon and Wayne were the core of a unit that again provided the Colts consistency, as well as big-play ability.
It also provided increased production from the previous season.
As a group, the trio caught 207 passes for 2,705 yards and 21 touchdowns, an increase in each category from 2008, when Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez and eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marvin Harrison combined to catch 199 passes for 2,445 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Wayne, a Pro Bowl selection from 2006-08, made the game again and turned in his second 100-reception season in three seasons, catching 100 passes for 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught three game-winning touchdowns in the fourth quarter of Colts victories – against San Francisco, New England and Jacksonville.
Caldwell said such a season was far from unusual for Wayne.
"I think one of the things that is a bit of a misconception about Reggie is that he has made this meteoric rise to stardom (over the last year)," Caldwell said. "A lot of times he has been a bit overshadowed because he had some great years even when Marvin (Harrison) was here. He's always been a steady player with great hands, an excellent route runner and an outstanding leader. He's not a rah-rah guy by any stretch of the imagination, but one who leads by example. He uses words very seldom but demonstrates it through his actions.
"Obviously, he has been the in program a number of years now, and he has been playing solid football for a long time."
What changed for Wayne this past season wasn't as much his role on the field but off.
Wayne from 2001-08 played alongside Harrison, and since midway through the 2002 season, the duo had started opposite one another. With Harrison being released early last offseason, Wayne met with receivers coach Clyde Christensen shortly before the 2009 season.
Wayne said he and Christensen talked a long time that day about Wayne's role with the young receivers.
"We had a great talk at the beginning of the year," Christensen said. "I said, 'This is your room. I shouldn't have to do anything. You take it.'"
It was, Christensen said, a role Wayne embraced.
It also was one that became more critical in the first game of the season, when Gonzalez sustained what became a season-ending knee injury in the first half of a 14-12 victory over Jacksonville at Lucas Oil Stadium. With Gonzalez out, Garcon and Collie moved into more prominent roles.
"They have been doing it all year," Wayne said during Super Bowl week. "They have been blessed in that they have been able to play all year with only nicks and bruises, nothing serious to keep them out of games. Those guys have been able to step up and stay focused and make plays for us."
Garcon, a sixth-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft from Mount Union, played sparingly except on special teams as a rookie, catching four passes for 23 yards. He moved into a starting role opposite Wayne following Gonzalez's injury, starting the final 13 games he played and catching 47 passes for 765 yards and four touchdowns.
"Losing Marvin (Harrison) and (Anthony) Gonzalez it was very tough to deal with, but as a team we're always at the next man up," Garcon said. "This is what you get paid to do, and this is what you have to do. You have to perform well. This is what they expect from you, and it's what I expect from myself.
"It's tough to lose those guys, but the guys that are waiting behind are ready to play."
Collie, a fourth-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft from Brigham Young, emerged as one of the NFL's top rookie receivers, playing a key role as a slot receiver and catching 60 passes for 676 yards and seven touchdowns.
"It's not as easy as everyone thinks," Collie said. "I'm still making mistakes, and there are still things I need to learn. I think it will be a couple of years before I get this offense down pat."
Wayne said while that may be true, it's just as true that the young duo with which he worked was a key to the Colts' season – and that their approach was a big reason the Colts' wide receiver unit continued to be one of the NFL's best.
"They work so hard," Wayne said. "They want to do well. Every time you see them in meetings, they're taking notes and doing whatever it takes to be good. That's all you can ask for, guys that take the time out of their busy schedule and put all the focus into watching film and going on the field and making things happen. They've showed up for us.
"After like Week 6, we told them, 'You're not a rookie anymore. You got your feet wet, and we're going to need you to really focus in on the task at hand and make things happen.' They (did) that all year."
Note: The 2010 Colts.com position-by-position series is meant to serve as an overview of the Colts' roster as it stands entering the 2010 offseason and to provide a detailed look at how the position groups fared during the 2009 season. It is not meant to reflect the opinion of Colts' management.