In a recent Ask the Experts update from the IndyStar.com, Colts beat writer Mike Chappell weighed in on the team's wide receiving corps depth. Mike's comments on the subject of Anthony Gonzalez's status with the team was consistent with some opinions you may or may not have read from yours truly:
My current pecking order has Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon being the outside starters with Anthony Gonzalez ahead of Austin Collie as the slot receiver. I just like the deep speed Garcon provides on the outside, even though I really like Gonzo's after-the-catch skills. Gonzo said he's been assured by the coaching staff that he'll be given an opportunity to compete with Garcon for the No. 2 spot alongside Wayne. We'll see how that shakes out.
Gee Mike, where were you a month-and-a-half ago when I was getting my ass handed to me by the readers of this blog for writing essentially the same thing you did:
I know this next declaration is a bit controversial around here, but as of right now last season's opening day starter at wideout () is probably the team's fourth WR on the depth chart. The reason for this is players like and have developed faster than Gonzo has, while continues to build a potential Hall of Fame resume as a primary receiver for this team.
I got smacked around pretty hard for saying that. Maybe Mike didn't come to my defense at the time because he was secretly enjoying watching me get roasted alive by you guys.
The one difference between Mike's opinion and mine is that Mike feels Gonzo is going to beat out Collie as the slot receiver. I don't see that happening. Collie seemed much more comfortable, and more effective, at slot in 2009 than Gonzo ever was playing that position in 2007 and 2008. Collie caught 77 balls for 917 yards and 9 TDs as a rookie in 2009 playing most of the year at slot. A season like that would be a career year for Gonzo, whose never caught more than 5 TDs in one season.
For me, I see more upside with Collie at slot. Gonzo is more effective playing outside. But, in order for him to do that, he has to show he's better than Reggie Wayne or Pierre Garcon. Right now, no one seems to think he is.
Matt Bowen at National Football Post shares Mike's opinion:
Caldwell will want competition in camp at every position, but when you look at the way the Colts run their offense with Peyton Manning in their three-WR sets, Gonzalez still is the best option inside of the numbers. He can make more plays against a nickel corner and when we talk about the number of route combinations that the Colts run out of their top offensive personnel groupings, Gonzalez will make a bigger impact for this team as the No.3 behind Wayne and Garcon.
I think Collie has done enough to warrant playing over Gonzo at slot. Look no further than Collie's best game last year: A 7 catches, 123 yard, 1 TD masterpiece against the NY Jets in the AFC Championship Game. Collie averaged nearly 18 yards a catch in that game. Remember, when the Colts drafted him in April 2009, they saw him primarily as the slot receiver. And when you play big in big games, as Collie has done recently, it's hard to justify benching you just because a veteran has returned from injury.
Like the offensive line, the sub-plot of "Who will play where?" in the wide receiving corps is a story we will watch closely during training camp.
Oh, and if you are tired of me bringing up the "Gonzo is the fourth WR" stuff, I remind you that I actually didn't bring up this recent round of discussions. Mike Chappell and Matt Bowen did. And just as PhilB said back on June 9th, the consensus from people who work closely with the Colts is that Gonzo is no longer a starter. Pierre Garcon has supplanted him.
Like it or not, this seems to be a rare case where a starter really did lose his job due to injury. Had Gonzo not gotten hurt in Week One, and had he gone on to have a similar season in 2009 as Garcon did, he'd be the unquestioned starter going into training camp (as he was last year).
This year, he's fighting to regain his old slot position, and if he continues to have more injury setbacks that may or may not have something to do with the knee problems he dealt with all last season, he will not beat out Austin Collie, who played in all 19 games last season. Sports Illustrated listed Gonzo on their All-Injury Prone Team last week, saying he went "from potential star to a potential seat on the Colts bench."
2010 is a big year for Gonzo. He must prove he can play a full season and is 100% healthy. A limited role, scaled back from his usual workload, could help him achieve that.