Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell Discusses the Team's Wide Receiver Position
INDIANAPOLIS – There is potential and there is what is real.
When it comes to the Colts' wide receivers, while Head Coach Jim Caldwell said without question there is potential for the group to be deep, productive and very, very effective, he prefers to take things slowly and deal in reality.
That reality is this:
That while on paper the Colts are talented at the position, and while they have starters returning with experience and a history of big-time production, the group must still perform.
"We're not there yet," Caldwell said recently in an interview for this story on the Colts' wide receivers, part of a position-by-position series scheduled to run on Colts.com this month.
"I think oftentimes, you start talking about something too often, it's not a good thing."
Still, Caldwell said he agrees with quarterback Peyton Manning, analysts and observers, when they say that there is a chance for the wide receiver position to be strong.
Very, very strong.
Because not only do the Colts have one of the NFL's most-reliable, productive veteran wide receivers – Reggie Wayne – they also have a group of young players at the spot who have yet to fulfill their potential.
And because of that, Manning said the group has a chance to be special.
"We have a chance to be as deep as we ever have been with receivers," Manning said during OTAs. "I'd say close to (eight-time pro Bowl selection) Marvin (Harrison), (Brandon) Stokley, Reggie (Wayne), Troy Walters, (that) was a very deep group and I think even Aaron Moorehead was number five that year and made some deep plays for us.
"Certainly it's got a chance to be a deep group, all guys that bring something a little different to the table. I think there will be some good, healthy competition and we will find ways to get all those guys on the field and working and keeping pressure on the defense."
One player remains with the Colts from the group Manning listed, a group that helped Manning to one of the most-productive passing seasons in NFL history in 2004.
That remaining player is Wayne.
Wayne, a first-round selection in the 2001 NFL Draft from the University of Miami, is entering his 10th NFL season. He caught 100 passes this past season for 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns, making his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, and emerging as a veteran leader of an otherwise young, inexperienced group.
"Our head guy," second-year veteran Austin Collie called Wayne recently.
Wayne this past season had more than 1,000 yards receiving for a sixth consecutive season, and three times had game-winning touchdown receptions in the fourth quarter of Colts victories – against San Francisco, New England and Jacksonville.
While Wayne was producing yet another consistently productive season, two other young receivers turned an early-season injury into productive seasons of their own.
Pierre 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 an injury to wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, starting the final 13 games he played and catching 47 passes for 765 yards and four touchdowns.
"We really believe he's just scratching the surface," Caldwell said. "He has a lot to learn, but he's a quick study. He's getting better."
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.
"I do see him getting better," Caldwell said of Collie. "He's got the kind of work habits, and he is really diligent about everything that he does that would lead you to believe that you are going to see some improvement. There is no question about it. He is in early. He stays late. He works extremely hard.
"The sky is the limit. I think he can keep improving. I think there have been a number of guys that have set a standard around here that they tend to get better each and every year. That's certainly his objective this year."
As a group, the trio caught 207 passes for 2,705 yards and 21 touchdowns, an increase in each category from 2008, when Wayne, Gonzalez and eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marvin Harrison combined to catch 199 passes for 2,445 yards and 15 touchdowns.
A productive group could get deeper next season with the return of Gonzalez, who missed the last 15 games of last season with a knee injury. Gonzalez caught 37 passes for 576 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie in 2007, then caught 57 passes for 664 yards and four touchdowns in 2008.
"We do have experience there – a lot of experience," Caldwell said. "Sometimes, there are some unintended consequences that come forth out of adversity and we had a bit of adversity from a number of injuries last year. We had two young guys who were able to step in and mature and develop. So, now, we're starting to get everybody back healthy again, so the experience they had in their development over the last year should help pay dividends, because we've added depth.
"We all feel good about where we are, but we have to keep them healthy and we have to continue to improve. If they play exactly like they played last year, chances are they might not be good enough."