Released by the Indianapolis Colts after one season, Johnson advised Dorsett, “Time for you to step up.”
Much is expected of Dorsett, a former first-round draft choice whose rookie season was reduced five games by an ankle fracture that required surgery. When Dorsett did play, he showed flashes of his potential. His best moment was a 35-yard touchdown catch at Tennessee in Week 3 when he beat a double team deep but had to come back for the underthrown pass and outjump two Titans.
But his overall season numbers — 18 catches for 225 yards and the one score — weren’t nearly enough. And because the NFL is about bottom lines, so far he’s been a disappointment, although the serious injury played a big part in that.
It’s fair to say, with Johnson gone and Dorsett expected to become the third receiver after T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, the young pass catcher is anxious to prove himself as a consistent contributor in 2016.
“We definitely have three of the fastest receivers in the league,” Dorsett said recently during offseason workouts. “It’s going to be fun, going out there working, getting better together. This year, I’ve definitely got better in the offseason. I’m looking forward to continuing to get better.”
Dorsett, like everyone else on offense, has immersed himself in learning offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s new playbook. At this stage of the offseason, the 23-year-old Floridian isn’t thinking about goals for his season numbers.
But he realizes the responsibility that comes with being a first-round selection.
“I understand how it is,” he said. “Getting picked in the first round, getting hurt last year, not really having a good year, but I don’t really feel the pressure. I’m confident in what I’m going to be able to do. I know I’m going to be able to contribute. I’m confident in my work ethic. I’m confident in my ability.”
He says he’s not worried. Should the Colts be concerned? While his speed is undeniable, there’s always a question about smaller receivers being able to stay on the field — Dorsett is 5-10 and 185 pounds.
Hilton stands 5-9 and weighs 178 pounds. A Pro Bowl selection the past two years, he has missed just two games in four seasons.
“Things happen. It is what it is,” Dorsett said with a shrug. “Dealing with (the injury) in my rookie year, it was tough at first. I learned to get over things like that. I went through the surgery, just worked hard to get back and now I’m healthy.”
The Colts released Johnson, a former seven-time Pro Bowl star, because he wasn’t the same player as in his glory years and contributed just 41 catches for 503 yards and four TDs. Most noticeably, Johnson had difficulty getting consistent separation from coverage. A three-year, $21-million commitment became a one-year mistake that requires the Colts to eat $2.5 million in dead camp money this season.
But recognizing Dorsett needs more playing time also made the decision to release Johnson all the more necessary. Johnson earned almost as much last season as Dorsett’s entire four-year rookie contract is worth. Let the young kid play.
“I’m definitely a lot more comfortable,” Dorsett said. “That’s the crazy thing about it. It was a lot to take in last year, being a rookie.
“I can definitely feel it now. It’s easier going in studying, I’ve got better study habits, and when I go on the field everything has slowed down and you know what to do. It’s definitely going to be a big jump for me.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.