We've talked a lot about the Colts WRs and how, for the first time in a while, there is a sense of uncertainty about them. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's not like our star WR is acting like an ass in an effort to get traded, or our other WR is hurt so often our owner refuses to let him work out. For the Colts, the uncertainty stems from having a lot of WR talent, but not knowing exactly how to use it.
And example of this is Anthony Gonzalez, who was the best rookie WR in 2007. Yes, better than Dewayne Bowe. When Dewayne Bowe does the kinds of big plays Gonzo does at the pro level, call me. Most of Gonzo's receptions in 2007 were with him playing Marvin Harrison's position, not the slot position, which he played in college at OSU. Gonzo was specifically drafted to replace oft-injured Brandon Stokley, who was released after the 2006 season. Early on in the '07 season, Gonzo struggled to understand the speed at the pro level and to fully grasp the playbook. Then, Marvin went down and Gonzo had to learn an entirely new position, with new routes and new expectations. Gonzo says this helped him grow as a player:
f 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.”
Though the numerous injuries frustrated the hell out of us during 2007, they might have been a blessing in disguise. It forced players like Gonzo to "grow up" a little faster than expected. You can usually learn a lot about someone when they are thrust into that situation, and with players like Gonzo, Clint Session, Ed Johnson, and Keyunta Dawson, we learned they were tough, young players willing to step up and play a role.
This season, it seems Gonzo will slide back to the slot WR position with Harrison and Reggie Wayne playing the outside WR positions. Gonzo seems to attack his new job like gangbusters. He has a Peyton Manning-like obsession with studying tape, plays, and anything and everything football-related. Even when he was hurt last season, he was a maniac studying:
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.”
Now, it seems Gonzo is ready to take the next step. Many though he couldn't play outside receiver, and per usual "many" were wrong.
“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 opportunities 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.’’’
Gonzo exemplifies what it takes to win and dominate in this NFL: Preparation, preparation, preparation.