By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
While Donnie Avery was standing in a New York airport after a free-agent visit with the Jets last week, his phone rang.
Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was on the other end of the line, and he said Avery’s visiting trips were over.
“What would it take for you to sign and give me a verbal commitment on the phone?” Pagno asked.
Avery appreciated the interest and confidence the Colts were showing in him. He and his agent also had talking with Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins.
But Indianapolis’ persistence carried the day in the end, and Avery signed a reported one-year contract with the team last week.
On Tuesday, he met the local media during a conference call and said he felt comfortable with his decision.
“(The Colts) expressed the most interest out of five teams,” Avery said. “Coach Chuck, the head coach, he called me about four or five times and told me how he could get me back to my early years in the NFL, how I can look up to Reggie Wayne and the rest of the guys and how I fit in the offense.”
Avery showed blazing speed at the University of Houston and was a second-round pick by the St. Louis Rams in 2008 despite pulling a hamstring during the combine and running 4.49-second 40-yard dash.
“I told all of the coaches before I had a pulled hamstring, and they told me ‘don’t do anything,’” Avery said. “But I just felt bad sitting back and watching other guys run and compete, and I couldn’t participate. After that I did the gauntlet, restrained it and had to sit out the rest of the combine.”
He justified the Rams’ confidence with 53 catches for 674 yards and three touchdowns, beating out first-round defensive end Chris Long for the team’s rookie of the year honor.
He followed that up with 47 catches for 589 yards and five touchdowns in 2009, and expectations were high for his potential teaming with No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford, a quarterback out of Oklahoma, in 2010.
But Avery suffered a knee injury during the third preseason game and missed the entire season. The Rams released him before the start of the 2011 regular season, and he caught on with the Tennessee Titans.
His role in Nashiville was limited — Avery appeared in just eight games and caught three passes for 45 yards and one score — but the wide receiver said he was healthy throughout the year.
“Just going through that Titans situation, they kind of told me I was going to be a reserve receiver,” he said. “They already had their guys in there. I came in Week 3 or Week 4, you know, so I had to try and learn the playbook and fit in also.”
But Avery said he’s back at full speed now.
He worked with Olympic track coach Alan Powell before the lockout last summer and trained by running 100-yard and 200-yard dashes at full speed. Avery said he wanted to make sure he still had his “fast-twitch” muscles, and he’s happy with the results.
He ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash during his pro day at Houston before the 2008 draft. And he says he was clocked at 4.25 in the 40 running on grass in Houston after working out with Powell.
The Colts are counting on that kind of speed to keep defenses honest and give a rookie quarterback — either Stanford’s Andrew Luck or Baylor’s Robert Griffin III — a deep-threat weapon next season.
“I feel like I am on level ground because of the new offensive coordinator (Bruce Arians) coming in, you know, so everybody is learning the playbook at once,” Avery said. “Going into OTAs, you get to build chemistry with the quarterbacks, you know, that foot memory with running your routes.”
Avery’s looking at the 2012 season as a fresh start with a rebuilding Colts team that is more than happy to have him along for the ride.
“I feel like this is a great start, I feel like it is a great start with the organization, with the coaches, just feeling good about coaches that want me, that want me again,” he said. “I am just excited about it.”