By BRIAN DULIK
BEREA â€” Anthony Gonzalez now plays for the Indianapolis Colts, but heâ€™ll always be an Ohioan at heart.
The talented wide receiver was born in Avon Lake, graduated from Cleveland St. Ignatius High and helped Ohio State reach the BCS national championship game.
On Sunday, Gonzalez returns home for the first time as a professional when the Colts visit Cleveland Browns Stadium for a 1 p.m. game.
â€œIâ€™m sure there will be some emotion to it,â€ he admitted. â€œIâ€™m going to Cleveland, Iâ€™m going to see my family, and Iâ€™m going to my parentsâ€™ house on Saturday. That will be nice. It is a little bit special to be in Ohio again.â€
The 6-foot, 193-pound wide receiver is one of the main reasons why Indianapolis has won four straight games and remains in the thick of the AFC playoff race.
Gonzalez is the Coltsâ€™ second-leading receiver in both catches (46) and yards (568), giving defenses another weapon to worry about when facing Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and friends.
His development into a quality NFL wideout has been one of the seasonâ€™s most pleasant surprises, especially since most receivers donâ€™t break out until their third season. Gonzalez was the 32nd overall selection in the 2007 draft.
â€œGonzo is doing great and he has grown,â€ Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said. â€œHeâ€™s a guy that is diligent, he works at it, heâ€™s starting to get that chemistry with Peyton, and heâ€™s made some big catches for us. I would expect for him to just get better and better.â€
Though Gonzalez is officially listed as Harrisonâ€™s backup on the Coltsâ€™ depth chart, he has essentially split time with him all season as the future Hall of Famer battles chronic knee problems. In the near future, however, Dungy expects the local product to take on an even bigger role.
â€œI think heâ€™s definitely ahead of where Reggie Wayne was in his second year,â€ Dungy said. â€œHe got to play a lot on the outside last year and I think that really helped him gain knowledge of the entire offense. He got to play a lot more than Reggie did early on and is probably a little more ahead.
â€œNow, whether he can progress to that Pro Bowl level that Reggie did, weâ€™ll have to see.â€
Donâ€™t rule it out, not as long as Manning is playing quarterback and Indianapolisâ€™ offense continues to score points at an impressive clip.
Just donâ€™t expect the reserved Gonzalez to make any proclamations about when he will make his first Pro Bowl appearance. His low-key approach is one of the reasons why Dungy is so confident about his future.
â€œIâ€™m fortunate to be in this situation because of the veteran leadership â€” and not just with Peyton, but everybody â€” is so strong here in Indianapolis,â€ said Gonzalez, who has caught three touchdown passes in both of his NFL campaigns. â€œThey do a great job showing the rookies and the young guys how it should be done, how things need to look, and things like that. Iâ€™ve been very fortunate in that regard.
â€œAs far as Peyton specifically, it always helps to have a guy that good throwing you the football.â€
Outside of being in a much higher tax bracket, Gonzales says little else has changed about his lifestyle since leaving Ohio State after his junior year. He still makes his offseason home in Columbus and sees his parents as much as possible.
And yes, Gonzalez still sleeps in an oxygen tent to improve his stamina at night, just as he did to the amusement of football fans while playing for the Buckeyes.
â€œNow, (the all-oxygen environment) is my entire bedroom, itâ€™s no longer just a tent,â€ he said, laughing. â€œSomehow the power in my bedroom got cut off Tuesday night, so I wasnâ€™t in it then, but every other night, Iâ€™m there, yeah.â€
INJURY UPDATE: Both teams held light practices on Thanksgiving, but neither reported any new injuries. For the Browns, fullbacks Charles Ali (broken rib) and Lawrence Vickers (ankle), running back Jerome Harrison (hamstring), safety Sean Jones (ankle), defensive tackle Shaun Rogers (shoulder) and defensive ends Shaun Smith (calf) and Corey Williams (foot) were all limited. Tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. (shoulder) was a full participant. … Held out of practice for Indianapolis were cornerbacks Bob Sanders (knee) and Antoine Bethea (ankle), linebacker Gary Brackett (hamstring) and center Jeff Saturday (calf). Wide receiver Reggie Wayne was given the holiday off.
PHIL â€˜ER UP: Browns kicker Phil Dawson is having a phenomenal season, but has dropped from third to seventh on the NFLâ€™s all-time field goal percentage list. San Diegoâ€™s Nate Kaeding, Chicagoâ€™s Robbie Gould and Tennesseeâ€™s Rob Bironas recently qualified for the leader board with their 100th career makes, forcing Dawson (.834) down multiple spots. The top six currently consists of retired booter Mike Vanderjagt (.865), Kaeding (.860), Cincinnatiâ€™s Shayne Graham (.856), Gould (.850), Bironas (.840) and Baltimoreâ€™s Matt Stover (.835). Dawson is 24-for-27 on the year, including 21-for-22 within 50 yards.
EXTRA POINTS: Peyton Manning has thrown a Colts-record 111 touchdown passes to Marvin Harrison, nearly twice as many as Johnny Unitas tossed to Raymond Berry (63) in the franchiseâ€™s Baltimore era. Manning to Reggie Wayne is third on the team list with 51 TD connections. The Brownsâ€™ all-time top scoring combination is Frank Ryan to Gary Collins (49), while their current best is Derek Anderson to Braylon Edwards with 21. … Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who has been roundly criticized for his play calling of late, will meet with the local media this morning. … The Colts are 7-4 and the Browns are 4-7.
Dulik may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-721-4059.