Fourth of a Position-by-Position Series on the Colts' Roster
INDIANAPOLIS – Just how different it will be, Jim Caldwell said he's not sure.
Caldwell, entering his first season as the Colts' head coach, said recently that the Colts' wide receiver situation next season may in fact not be different at all. Marvin Harrison, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection released late last month for salary-cap reasons, is still a free agent. As such, a return to the team is still possible.
But if Harrison doesn't return, Caldwell said the reality is the receiver situation will be different than it has been in recent seasons.
But he said something else is equally true. Just because it's different doesn't mean the group can't be effective.
"You don't replace a Hall of Famer," Caldwell said recently during 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.
"There's no one that has had the kind of production that Marvin has had. He certainly has been one of the all-time greats, so that's going to be different.
"But the players we do have certainly will continue to improve."
Included in that group is eight-year veteran Reggie Wayne, a player who has continued to develop in recent seasons into one of the league's elite players at his position, and a player – with Harrison injured in 2007 and less statistically productive last season – who developed into a go-to receiver in one of the league's most-productive offenses.
"Over the last couple of years, when you look at what he's been able to accomplish – he has performed brilliantly," Caldwell said of Wayne. "He has added certainly a lot of big plays over the years. I can't remember a year where he didn't continue to get better."
And Caldwell said for Wayne, improvement went well beyond statistics and into an area that allowed not only Wayne to improve, but the entire offense.
"That's the thing I think we all noticed about him," Caldwell said. "Reggie is a big-time performer. Not only in terms of the catches he makes – tremendous catches in clutch situations – but he's also a very aggressive and active blocker as well in the running game. He does everything well."
Wayne, the Colts' first-round selection in the 2001 NFL Draft, caught 82 passes for 1,145 yards and six touchdowns this past season. That was the first time in his career he didn't improve statistically from the season before, but there was a reason for that: in 2007, Wayne led the NFL in receiving yards, catching 104 passes for 1,510 yards and 10 touchdowns.
This past season, Wayne remained an elite player, making his third consecutive Pro Bowl.
"He sets a great pace, just in terms of what he gets done in practice and making certain he's physically ready in terms of the start of the season," Caldwell said. "He keeps himself in great physical condition. He's a great model for the young guys as well.
"I really anticipate Reggie will continue to do what he's been doing, When you look at him over the past couple of years, he has done a tremendous job."
While Caldwell said Harrison can't be replaced, the Colts have moved in recent years to keep the core of receivers productive, and at the same time, young.
Anthony Gonzalez, the Colts' first-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, caught 57 passes for 664 yards and four touchdowns this past season. Those numbers were similar to those of Harrison, who had 60 receptions for 636 yards and five touchdowns.
Gonzalez, who played mostly inside at Ohio State, has played both the slot and outside receiver positions in his first two NFL seasons, playing outside in place of Harrison extensively when the latter was injured in 2007. Gonzalez also played outside extensively last season.
"Anthony Gonzalez has gotten better not just every year, but he gets better everyday," Caldwell said. "His first year, he was effective. His second season, he was more effective."
Which Caldwell said makes Gonzalez an example of the positives of the Colts' scouting system.
"I think a lot of times we don't talk enough about what a great job (Colts President) Bill (Polian) and (Vice President of Football Operations) Chris (Polian) and (Director of Player Personnel) Tom Telesco and all of our scouting department does of finding guys who grow within our system and develop into quality players," Caldwell said. "Anthony has all of those attributes and intangibles. He studies hard and is a guy who loves to work at his craft.
"He studies film after practice and before practice and you can see evidence of all of his improvement week in and week out. He's getting a better understanding of the game and a better understanding of his role. He has been effective."
Polian, when discussing the NFL Draft in late February, mentioned wide receiver as a possibility in late April whether or not Harrison returns, and Caldwell said no matter how draft day develops, there are players on the roster who cannot only provide depth, but continue to develop into front-line players.
"We have some guys who have to step for us and come along," Caldwell said.
That group includes:
o Pierre Garcon, second season. A sixth-round selection from Mount Union, he played sparingly as a rookie at receiver, catching four passes for 23 yards. "Pierre has the size, speed, ability," Caldwell said. "He just needs reps. We have to really work during this offseason at getting in a position where he's comfortable in what we do so that (Colts quarterback) Peyton (Manning) gets an opunity to get comfortable with him, and that he really works to get a great understanding of the offense. Our offense moves really fast. He's got to work at it. It takes a little while for them to get a real good understanding of what we can get accomplished. It not something that just happens overnight."
o Roy Hall, third season. A fifth-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, Hall has missed 25 games over two seasons with injuries. "A very capable guy who was hurt a good portion of the year last year," Caldwell said of Hall, adding, "but Roy has size, girth, speed and he certainly is a guy capable of making plays. Roy Hall is one of those guys who has to work to continue to develop within our system."
o Sam Giguere, first season. An undrafted rookie free agent from Sherbrooke, he spent last season on the practice squad. "He has a chance to really develop this offseason and he must develop for us and continue to progress," Caldwell said. "He has speed and ability, but the thing he needs – like a number of the young guys – is experience."
o Taj Smith, first season. A free agent from Syracuse, he also spent much of last season on the the practice squad. "He has some ability," Caldwell said. "We've seen some flashes in practice and we're excited to get an opportunity to work with him to work with him this spring as well."