INDIANAPOLIS – Nothing's guaranteed for Griff Whalen. He knows it, and he's OK with it. What's his alternative? Whining? He has neither time nor taste for that.
Whalen enters his third year as a wide receiver with the Indianapolis Colts, and once again he'll be fighting for a job. The wide receiver group is deep, with Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, free-agent signee Hakeem Nicks, draft pick Donte Moncrief and other returnees LaVon Brazill and Da'Rick Rogers.
There's not enough room for everyone.
“He's always been the underdog and probably always will be,” Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said. “but his attitude more than makes up for that.”
Luck knows Whalen well. They were teammates at Stanford University, where Whalen went from walk-on to favorite target. Whalen's pro career has followed a similar trajectory, from undrafted free agent to key player. He stepped in and played well to bolster the passing game after Wayne went down with a season-ending knee injury last season.
Attitude and attention to detail, two of Whalen's strengths, remain keys. Whalen enters the receivers' battle, which started in earnest with organized team activities (OTAs) this week, knowing the road ahead but embracing the challenge.
“We're all pushing each other, getting better every day, and that's helping this group as a whole,” Whalen said.
For now, the group is without their leader Wayne, who is still working to return from surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Whalen said Wayne's absence changes the atmosphere.
“It does a little bit,” Whalen said. “He was here most of the workouts earlier and that's always good for all of us. He chimes in here and there with his infinite wisdom on the game. It's great when he's here. But it's fun right now with more reps for the rest of us to get that work in and try and get better. We definitely miss him.”
Colts coaches won't publicly rank the receivers or point out where the most crucial battles lie, but it's safe to assume that Wayne, Hilton, Nicks and third-round pick Moncrief are headed to the 53-man roster. A good guess would be that two spots will be available for Whalen, Brazill and Rogers.
“I like the competition,” Brazill said. “I'm never afraid of competition. I just go out there, play ball and have fun. Congratulate my teammates when they do something good, correct them when they do something bad and vice versa. There's good competition in that receiver room.”
Whalen played in nine regular-season games last season, spending six weeks on the practice squad. He caught 24 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season. He caught seven passes for 93 yards in two playoff games.
Whalen had more catches and yards than either Rogers (14 for 192) or Brazill (12 for 161). Whalen also proved he had value as a reliable punt returner, returning seven and taking one for 51 yards.
One benefit for the returning receivers is being in the same offensive system for the second straight season under coordinator Pep Hamilton. That's especially beneficial for Luck and Whalen, who played with Hamilton at Stanford.
The returning receivers will try to make the most of the knowledge.
“It's good from the standpoint I don't have to think as much,” Whalen said. “It's not as hard to have to figure out where you're lining up or what route you're running. It's more comfortable, everyone's faster and having more fun out there.”
For some NFL players, optional offseason workouts are a time for extra work, refining skills and keeping in shape. For others, livelihoods are on the line. For Whalen, the latter is business as usual.