ANDERSON – Indianapolis Colts wide receiver LaVon Brazill's bad choice has turned into Griff Whalen's big opening.
Whalen, the second-year receiver out of Stanford University, has made the most significant impact among receivers fighting for the fourth spot behind Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton as the Colts start their second week of training camp. Brazill is in camp, but suspended for the first four games. (Heyward-Bey could also miss time after suffering a left knee sprain Sunday.)
Whalen can play out of the slot or split wide and he possesses the type of body type and style that prompts coach Chuck Pagano to compare him with Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and former Colts receiver Austin Collie.
Whalen missed his first season with a foot injury after joining the Colts as an undrafted free agent last year.
“It was a long offseason because the whole season felt like an offseason for me,” Whalen said. “But it took a lot of work to get physically back to where I need to be as well.”
Since opening training camp in the No.17 jersey worn last by Collie, the 5-foot-11, 197-pound Whalen has been essentially catching everything in sight. Colts coach Chuck Pagano mentioned that Whalen is making it tough on the coaches to discount him as a possible regular rotation player.
The move would be quite a jump for an undrafted free agent who missed a year, but not necessarily unprecedented for Whalen. He was a walk-on when he started at Stanford, but became one of Andrew Luck's primary targets by his senior season, compiling 1,058 receiving yards with five touchdowns.
“He's always surprised people,” Luck said. “I remember coming in as a freshman, as a walk-on, we thought we had the best scout team in America -- throw the ball up to Griff and he would go run and catch it. He's always surprised people. He ended up earning a scholarship. He's just a good, solid, steady guy and he's working his butt off, so it's good.”
Call Whalen an underdog if you'd like. He said he's been considered an underdog most of his career.
“In certain situations, especially going into college the first few years there, absolutely,” Whalen said, “Then again, right now I kind of have that feeling. I don't really have all the hype and the big name so I feel like I have to work extra hard.”
The benefit for Whalen is that former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has assumed that role with the Colts. Hamilton brings in his own offensive style, personality and terminology. Whalen is familiar with it all. The Colts have four Stanford connections: Hamilton, Luck, Whalen and tight end Coby Fleener.
First off, we are just comfortable with each other,” Whalen said of working with Hamilton. “We know each other so well, which is nice. There's a lot of communication, bouncing ideas off each other and stuff like that. Having that familiarity with the offense just helps me a lot on the field so I can play fast.”
The fact that Hamilton's offense fits Whalen so well adds to the comfort level, too.
“Last year was my first time learning a new offense so not having to do that again was really nice this year,” Whalen said. “Just kind of already knowing it all, just allows me to play fast not having to think too much when I am out there.”
Pagano said the Colts coaches talk about how players must make themselves “necessary” in order to earn a roster spot first and, ultimately, playing time.
Whalen is on the verge of becoming necessary. With Brazill suspended for four games for violating league drug policy, this is easily Whalen's best chance to prove his pro mettle. Pagano also said Whalen could contribute on special teams, and has worked as a holder on kicks during camp.
“He is just a reliable guy," Pagano said. "He studies his craft, he's a gym rat, he's here all the time, he's working, he knows what to do, he doesn't make mental mistakes. It's going to be really hard to get rid of a guy like that so he is going to make it hard on us to try to get rid of him so he is doing a great job.”