It's so very obvious: teams that operate at a championship level through an extended period of time know how to restock their ranks as their formerly great players fall away. Easy to say, hard to do. When the Indianapolis Colts last played in the Super Bowl four years ago, their leading receivers were Marvin Harrison(notes) and Reggie Wayne(notes). Between them, Marvin and Wayne caught 181 passes for 2,676 yards and 21 touchdowns. Tight end Dallas Clark(notes) caught only 30 passes that season, and very few people outside of their immediate families had heard of Pierre Garcon(notes) and Austin Collie(notes).
Of course, most of that has changed as the Colts prepare for the end of another Super run -- Harrison is out of pro football, though Wayne is as automatic as ever. Joining him in the 100-catch club is Clark, who has become as valuable to Peyton Manning(notes) as any player. Perhaps the real story on that offense is of Garcon and Collie, two young players who have stepped into a precision offense seemingly without missing a beat.
Garcon was a sixth-round pick in 2008 out of Mount Union, and he alternated between return man and reserve receiver in his rookie year. After Harrison's retirement, the Colts saw Garcon as a possible replacement in the starting lineup, and Garcon was ready to respond. He caught 47 passes for 765 yards and four touchdowns in the 2009 regular season, and really turned it on in the AFC Championship, bagging 11 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown against the Jets. If there was an championship game MVP award, Garcon would have won it hands down.
Collie was taken in the fourth round of the 2009 draft out of BYU, having set many receiving records in high school and college. He played all three receiver spots for the Colts right away, taking away some of the sting of the knee injury that killed Anthony Gonzalez's(notes) season. Collie tied with Minnesota's Percy Harvin(notes) for most rookie receptions with 60, and led all first-year players with seven receiving touchdowns. He's been the real threat in the long seam routes, with an 11.3 yards per catch average, and 11 plays over 20 yards (one behind the dynamic Harvin).
"Collie has really come in and filled a void that we had, just in terms of someone being able to play and play effectively in the slot," Colts head coach Jim Caldwell said in mid-January. "It was a position we weren't quite certain of how it would end up. We knew we would have a pretty good player there. But to have a rookie perform the way he has performed is pretty unique. I think that's because of how he works at it, he studies, he loves it and he's been able to adapt."
When Manning is able to hit those third and fourth reads (Wayne and Clark being one and two), watch for Garcon and Collie in this game. They're the reason that no defense can focus too much on just one Indy weapon.