Fourth of a Position-by-Position Series on the Colts' Roster
INDIANAPOLIS – The noteworthy thing about the difference in the Colts' passing game this past season was there wasn't much difference at all.
Not in the numbers, anyway. Not in terms of production.
Despite the extended absence of an eight-time Pro Bowl selection at wide receiver, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said the difference in production in the passing game this past season wasn't as large as might be expected. There were several reasons for that, Dungy said.
And he said the biggest was obvious:
Wayne, a seven-year veteran, made the Pro Bowl for a second consecutive season – for the first time as a starter – but Dungy said Wayne's value couldn't necessarily be measured in awards, or even statistically, although Wayne set career-highs in yards and receptions.
And Dungy said Wayne was a big reason the Colts' wide receiver position had a solid season in 2007 despite eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marvin Harrison missing 11 regular-season games.
"He (Wayne) was phenomenal," Dungy said during a recent interview with Colts.com for this story on the team's wide receivers, the fourth of a position-by-position series that will run throughout this month.
Wayne, a first-round selection by the Colts in the 2001 NFL Draft from the University of Miami, caught 104 passes for 1,510 yards and 10 touchdowns this past season, helping Indianapolis finish as the NFL's sixth-ranked passing offense despite the absence of Harrison, a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown receiver each of the past eight seasons.
The 2007 season marked the 10th consecutive season the Colts ranked among the NFL's top six teams in passing offense. They had ranked in the top four every season since 1999.
In 2006, they averaged 269.3 yards per game passing.
In 2007, they averaged 252.1 yards per game.
Harrison, who averaged 103 receptions for 1,402 yards and 12.6 touchdowns a season from 1999-2006, caught 95 passes for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2006. He played in five regular-season games in 2007, catching 20 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown.
"When you look at it, when you take Marvin's numbers from the year before and then last year, we're missing 75 catches and 11 touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards," Dungy said. "That had to come from somewhere. It comes from Gonzo (rookie wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez) and a lot of different people, but a lot of it was Reggie, picking up that slack.
"Even though he had had a Pro Bowl year the year before, he had to increase it to take up some of that slack, and he did. It was hard to believe – that he really improved that much on a Pro Bowl year before."
Improving each season has been the norm for Wayne.
In each of his seven NFL seasons, he has improved statistically from the season before. He caught 27 passes as a rookie, catching 49 for 716 yards and four touchdowns in 2002. He followed that with 68 receptions for 838 yards and seven touchdowns in 2003 before recording his first 1,000-yard season in 2004, when he caught 77 passes for 1,210 yards and 12 touchdowns.
In 2005, he caught 83 passes for 1,055 yards and five touchdowns, then set career-highs in receptions and yards in 2006 with 86 receptions for 1,310 yards and nine touchdowns.
This season, he said recently, his goal will be simple: find a way to catch at least 105 passes.
"That's still the number," he said during the week before the Pro Bowl. "It's going to be tough, of course. I thought trying to get 87 was tough. The season that just passed kind of fell into my lap. We had some injuries and (Colts quarterback) Peyton (Manning) started looking at me more.
"Hopefully, it's not like that next year, but still, all in all, I had some catches I felt like I could have got last year I didn't get. I just have to look at it like I've been looking at.
"It's a goal. I have to do what it takes to get it."
Dungy said Wayne's ability to be productive despite the absence of Harrison typified his approach – and his effectiveness – throughout his seven NFL seasons.
"He's a guy who's going to get the job done for an individual game, for a six-week stretch, for a year like it was this year – whatever he has to do to carry the load," Dungy said. "This was the first time we've really moved him around because of Marvin being hurt. He had to play more in the slot – just whatever you have to do."
Dungy said the receiver position – and the Colts' overall passing numbers – were about more than Wayne. Tight end Dallas Clark moved outside in many formations, catching a career-high 58 passes for 616 yards and a career-high 11 touchdowns. Gonzalez caught 37 passes for 576 yards and three touchdowns – the most receptions by a Colts rookie receiver in eight seasons – and tight ends Ben Utecht and Bryan Fletcher combined to catch 49 passes for 507 yards and a touchdown.
First-year free agent wide receiver Craphonso Thorpe caught 12 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown, and veteran wide receiver Aaron Moorehead caught eight passes for 65 yards.
First-year veteran wide receiver Devin Aromashadu caught seven passes for 96 yards, and the Colts have retained him entering the off-season. Thorpe was not retained and Moorehead – an unrestricted free agent – has not been re-signed.
"The numbers at the end of the year, the productivity was pretty much the same," Dungy said. "There were a lot of guys making up for that, including Dallas Clark. That's just kind of the mantra of the team, that whatever you have to do, whoever has to step up, you've got to make it happen."
Gonzalez, the Colts' first-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, started nine of 13 games, catching 22 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns in his final five regular-season games. He also had 100-yard games in that stretch against Atlanta and Baltimore.
"You really did" see progress from Gonzalez, Dungy said. "Even early on, down in Tennessee (in Week 2), he made a couple of plays before the half that got us going."
Gonzalez, who played mostly the slot in college, made his second start against Tampa Bay in Week 5, starting on the outside in place of Harrison. He then started in Harrison's place seven of the next nine games. He played as the third receiver in the Colts' playoff loss to San Diego, catching four passes for 79 yards and a 55-yard touchdown.
"The Tampa game – when he started and made some big plays on the outside when he hadn't really practiced out there – all the way through the playoff game," Dungy said. "I think you're going to see that second-year jump with him (next season), just more consistency.
"The ability to make the big play is what we're used to seeing around here. I think he's going to just fit right in that way."
And while Dungy said Gonzalez wasn't happy with his progress at times as a rookie, "he made it through."
"I think it was tough on him, because he expected to contribute more and for it to be smoother," Dungy said. "I just would tell him, 'Hey, look at Reggie's first year. Look where Reggie is now.' He got more opunity than Reggie (in 2001), but he did well.
"He'll be so much better next year. It should be fine for him."