Justin Gage can’t wait for the 2009 season to begin.
After the way he finished 2008, who could blame him. Gage had just 34 catches in the regular season, but between knee and hamstring issues missed four full games and was limited in at least two others.
But once he finally returned healthy in the second half of the season, no Tennessee Titans receiver was more productive than the six-year veteran.
Gage turned in a pair of 100-yard games in the regular season, and when Chris Johnson was lost with an ankle injury in the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Gage became the Titans’ weapon of choice, hauling in 10 passes for 135 yards that day.
In all, he averaged 19.1 yards per catch in 2008, after tying for the team lead in 2007 with 55 receptions.
Gage hopes bigger things are in store for him and the Titans passing game this fall.
“Just knowing how I finished up last year, I’m just trying to feed off that positive vibe,” Gage said. “I’m looking from day one to go out there and make plays. I’m definitely think I can surpass the last couple of seasons.”
Even though fewer passes might come his way because of the additions of Nate Washington and Kenny Britt at receiver and Jared Cook as a hybrid tight end, Gage believes the entire offense, and his own numbers, will improve this year.
“With the speed we have on the outside now and the abilities of these guys to make plays, the defense can’t focus on taking a receiver away or what not,” Gage said. “They have to respect our running game because it’s dangerous, and now we have some help at the receiver position, guys who can make plays at any given time, so teams have to play us honest.”
Gage is also making strides in his understanding of offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger’s offensive schemes in his second year in the system. Receivers coach Fred Graves has noticed an improvement in Gage’s approach and attention to detail.
“[He is] feeling comfortable in the offense with some of the calls, because we’ve had him playing three and sometimes four different positions,” Graves said. “Now, he understands what the concepts are and the formations and changes, and he is just feeling comfortable about himself period.
“He understands even the quarterbacks reads and what we’re trying to get out of certain coverages.”
Gage is also taking measures to ensure that he can hold up for the full 16-game haul this season for the Titans, after battling injuries at times through his first two seasons.
“That’s the big thing,” Graves said. “He’s gotten in the weight room and he’s doing some things to help him endurance-wise and to help him out with muscle endurance. I think he’s set to have a good year.”