When veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne talked to the media after this morning's practice, he offered his take on the young receivers: "They're all Smurfs. I thought once they put on pads, they'd get bigger, but they're still Smurfs. Not only are they Smurfs, but when they get the ball, they're dangerous with it.".
Those "Smurfs" that Wayne was talking about are the Colts' young receivers - a group that, aside from Wayne, is an average of only 24 and a half years old (Wayne is 33). Donnie Avery, LaVon Brazill, Austin Collie, T.Y. Hilton, and others have been making quite an impression at camp.
Wayne, the unquestioned leader of not only the position, but the offense as well, failed to gain 1,000 yards receiving last season for the first time since 2003 (he got 960, falling 40 yards short). With a quarterback like Andrew Luck to throw him the ball though, Wayne could be poised for his eighth season over 1,000 yards. Luck has certainly been impressing those at camp, but Wayne wants to make sure his current quarterback isn't compared to his former one. "He's not here to be Peyton," Wayne told the Indianapolis Star. "But if everyone expects him to be great someday, he's on the right track."
Wayne is not the only receiver Luck will have to throw to. Many other wideouts have been impressing at camp, perhaps none more so than rookie LaVon Brazill.
Brazill, the Colts sixth round draft pick in April's draft, has been getting quite a bit of time working with Luck. In fact, according to Albert Breer of NFL.com, Brazill has been "gobbling up first team reps". This certainly comes as a surprise to me, as I expected Brazill to be the Colts number five receiver. While the depth chart is in no way set in stone (in fact an official one has yet to be released), it is interesting to hear that Brazill is getting considerable time with the first team offense. His speed in particular has been impressing people.
Brazill's fellow rookie wideout, T.Y. Hilton, is also looking to make his mark at camp. The third round pick said earlier this week that not only does he hope to get a Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne connection going with this offense, but that he hopes to return kicks and punts as well. He said that he hopes to both catch footballs and return them. I have heard good things about Hilton out of Anderson as well. He also made sure to mention Wayne's leadership. "You know coming into it you’re scared to talk to him because you know that’s Reggie Wayne. But if you go up and ask him a question, he’ll talk to you, tell you the ins and outs of football, how to do the things he’s done and just grown from him."
When healthy and when catching passes from a decent quarterback (or in this case a legendary quarterback), Austin Collie was among the top slot receivers in football. Just like Wayne, his production suffered a year ago, but a big accomplishment was that he stayed healthy. If he can stay on the field in 2012 (for those who don't know, Collie suffered two concussions in a span of seven weeks in 2010), Collie may be poised for a big year. His chemistry with Luck has reportedly been good since day one, and he also appears to be Luck's favorite target early on. For you fantasy nerds out there, Collie is my sleeper for the Colts this season. With him back at full strength and with a quarterback that can get him the ball, Austin Collie should have a big season.
Donnie Avery, like Collie, is trying to overcome an injury. After a promising start to his career in St. Louis, Avery tore his ACL in the preseason of his third year, 2010. He missed all of that season and was released by the Rams prior to the 2011 season. He signed with the Titans, and although he appeared in eight games, he only caught three passes. Avery signed with the Colts, looking to regain his status as a deep threat and contribute to the Colts offense. With my opinion that Luck could be pretty good throwing deep this season (more on that to come later), Avery stands a chance to be a factor this year for the Colts. For those wondering, Avery likely will fill the Mike Wallace role in Bruce Arians' offense.
There are others, of course, who will make a case for playing time and roster spots. But these five players will make up most of the production from the Colts wide receiver position.
These so called "smurfs" are in a way little blue men. They are small, as many receivers are, and they wear Colts blue with pride. But they have potential. The young guys, led by the veteran Wayne, could develop into a pretty impressive receiving core. With any luck (and they certainly have Luck), Wayne will get to be a part of the success and not just the rebuilding. Talking about the roster, he said, "People say 'depleted,' I say younger, hungrier. I don't know. I love the teams of the past, but we know once we sign those contracts, anything can happen. I wanted to be here to help build this foundation and get the Colts back to the old winning days."
While the winning days of old may seem distant and the winning days of the future far off, if the rest of the roster comes along as quickly as the receivers have, the winning days may come quicker than expected.
And the "smurfs" would be right there leading the way.