The wide receiver has watched how hard his friend has worked since high school.
When the former Miami Hurricanes teammates decided to be reunited with the Indianapolis Colts during March free agency, much of the media reaction has focused on their ages. Johnson turns 34 on July 11 and is entering his 13th season. Gore turned 32 in May and is approaching his 11th NFL year.
Critics have questioned how much they have left. But Johnson and Gore have brushed aside that topic. They are aware of what they put into their jobs. That’s why they’ve lasted as long as they have. That’s how Johnson has caught 1,012 passes for 13,597 yards and 64 TDs while Gore has rushed for 11,073 yards and 64 TDs.
“He’s just a very tough guy,” Johnson said of Gore recently during offseason training activities. “Any time he’s ever been doubted, he’s overcame it.”
So any doubt about their seasoned ages is fuel to their fire.
“I’ve known Frank for a long time, since high school,” Johnson said. “You go back to college when he tore up both of his knees, nobody thought he would overcome that and he did.
“If you were ever to train with him and watch him work, the guy works his butt off. That’s why he’s been able to do what he’s done in this league for a long time. I expect the same out of him.”
Neither player prefers to do much talking. This is a game of action. That’s where they will prove what they can contribute to a Colts’ Super Bowl quest.
“Yeah, I’ve been in the league for a while,” Gore said. “I know what it takes. You have to be great in the locker room. You have to lead by example. That’s what type of guy I am. I’m not talkative, but I will help guys out. When I’m on the field I also will work to show the guys what it will take to be in the league for a while.”
The Colts are counting on Gore to boost their rushing attack as the No. 1 back. They haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Joseph Addai in 2007. Gore has eclipsed that barrier in each of the past four seasons and in eight of his nine years since becoming a starter.
It’s no wonder that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck refers to the 5-9, 217-pound Gore as “a stud.” And he’s not the only one.
Colts inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson echoes the assessment of others that Gore has endured with smarts, too.
“I think Frank, following his career, he’s been able to avoid big hits,” Jackson said. “He’s a smart runner and that’s one thing that if young guys can pick up early on, you’ll last a long time.”
Jackson turns 32 in September and is preparing for his 10th NFL season. The Colts’ leading tackler from a year ago can attest to the fact that “30-somethings” can still make an impact in today’s game.
“That’s when we’re in our prime mentally, physically,” Jackson said. “We know our strengths. We know what our weaknesses are. We understand that those other senses get heightened a bit. We’re not prime. We’re just not a spring chicken anymore. It takes us longer to warm up and stretch, but we’ll get it done.”
Johnson is expected to give the Colts’ a larger, stronger pass-catching target for Luck, who had wide receiver Reggie Wayne in that role until Wayne got hurt the past two seasons.
Luck admired how Gore and Johnson have prepared for work during OTAs. Any time he was asked about them, he gushed.
When specifically asked about the secret to Gore’s success, he acknowledged what others have surmised, that it isn’t much of a secret.
“He takes care of his body,” Luck said. “You can tell the way he works. He practices hard every day. He doesn’t take plays off, and he’s a heck of a football player. He’s a smart football player. He knows what he’s doing out there. He puts himself in position to succeed. I’m sure glad he’s here with us.”
Luck sees how Gore reads defensive formations, where the safeties are headed, how cornerbacks are positioning themselves in the nickel package. The running back is a student of the game, which means anticipating where defenders are going to be.
“He’s picked up on a bunch of stuff that guys, we’ve been here for three years and find it so hard, there’s guys that haven’t picked up in practice,” Luck said. “He’s a heady, heady player.
“I’ve always been impressed with how Frank blocks and protects you. … Just the way he sees things from the backfield and sort of self-talking in communication with each other and, ‘Watch the safety. Watch the linebacker.’ He does a heck of a job with that. That’s something I know I can learn a lot from.”
Luck sees the same wisdom in how Johnson gets separation from defenders and reads defenses while running his routes. And he likes the understated professional demeanor they bring to the Colts’ huddle.
“They understand football, you can tell that,” Luck said. “They know how to play and certain things they know how to do and certain things that coaches are asking them might be a little different.”
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano has reiterated that Gore and Johnson have endured because they’ve applied work ethic to their talents.
When speaking about Gore during OTAs, Pagano said, “He doesn’t take time off, so it’s year round for Frank. He loves football. When the season is over, it’s a nightmare for a guy like that.”
Gore was the franchise rushing leader with the San Francisco 49ers and Johnson the franchise receiving leader for the Houston Texans. They’ve enjoyed their transitions to a new team so far, and as Johnson has said, “can’t wait” for the upcoming NFL season to begin.
“I see why they have been successful because they really work hard here,” Gore said. “I’m happy I’m here.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.