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Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Heyward-Bey leaves Oakland for fresh start

By Mike Wells

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey isn’t pointing fingers at anybody in the Oakland Raiders organization.

Not even one person.

He knows he was at fault for some of the things that happened during his four years with the Raiders. He dropped almost 36 percent of the passes thrown to him his rookie year. And in a profession where reputation carries significant weight, getting a negative label -- especially after just one season -- stays with you for quite some time.

It’s even more magnified when your primary job is to, well, catch the football.

Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft, could have given excuses, though.

Four different offensive coordinators. Seven different quarterbacks threw him a pass. Three head coaches.

“I’m not one to make excuses,” Heyward-Bey said. “I definitely had a disappointing rookie season, but I never led my team in drops after that. I was there; I’m here now, and I look at it as a chance for me to move on with my career and start new here.”

Darrius Heyward-Bey
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey came to Indianapolis seeking consistency he never found in Oakland; the Colts hope he repays in kind.
Having that mindset is why Heyward-Bey isn’t getting caught up by the fact that his first regular-season game as a Colt happens to be against his former team. He didn’t do anything like highlight that game with a marker when the schedule came out. As he put it, “It’s another team in our way of reaching our goal of making the playoffs and competing for a Super Bowl.”

Sunday's visit from the Raiders is also another chance for Heyward-Bey to try to live up to the expectations of being a top-10 pick.

The numbers so far show that he hasn't lived up to his potential. He has 140 catches for 2,071 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first four seasons.

“The way I look at it -- and I’ve even talked to him about it -- everybody has things they can work on,” Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. “He knows the receiver position is meant to catch the ball. You are expected to catch the ball.”

Grigson and the rest of the Colts’ scouting department knew about Heyward-Bey’s suspect hands when they pursued him during free agency. But they thought about his 4.3 speed and the creative ways they could use him in the offense. And, of course, having him line up opposite veteran Reggie Wayne at the receiver to give quarterback Andrew Luck another threat at that position.

As his right shoulder leaned up against the blue horseshoe in the Colts locker room, Heyward-Bey shifted his eyes to the other end of the room when asked why he chose Indianapolis.

“Those two guys down there,” he said while pointing at two nameplates above the lockers.

One was Luck's locker, and the other, a couple of spots over to the right, was Wayne's.

Luck provides stability, because he’ll lead the Colts for at least the next decade. No more looking over and seeing a different quarterback taking snaps from the center for Heyward-Bey.

Wayne provides leadership, the type Heyward-Bey didn’t have at receiver during most of his time with Oakland. Heyward-Bey was expected to lead the Raiders at receiver while he was still learning how to play the position at this level himself.

That was destined for failure.

“Coming here and having the opportunity to be in a room with a guy like Reggie has been tremendous for his growth,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “That’s all he talks about because he’s never had that. Reggie’s got so much obviously to give. It’s been great for DHB.”

Wayne is a man of few words. He leaves that for others. His preference is to lead by example.

Being professional on the field and away from it. Practicing hard. Putting in the extra time after practice on the Jugs passing machine.

“Take everything, the little things and make them into big things,” Wayne said. “That’s how I look at it. Just do things the right way. I only speak when I need to.”

Heyward-Bey added, “I never had an opportunity to have a guy who is older than me play that many games and to be a future Hall of Famer. I sit back and try to learn as much as I can. It’s been a great stay so far.”

There were moments during the early weeks of training camp when it looked like Heyward-Bey had brought his bad hands with him from Oakland to Indianapolis. But the coaching staff got him comfortable by calling plays that allowed him to catch quick passes to help him find a rhythm in the offense as the preseason progressed.

“The guy has busted his butt,” Luck said. “He keeps working. We know he’s a playmaker. He’s going to be huge part of the offense. He knows that, too.”

If all goes accordingly, the Colts could have one of the top receiving trios in the league in Wayne, second-year receiver T.Y. Hilton and Heyward-Bey.

You know what you’re going to get out of Wayne and Hilton, who had a strong preseason.

And Heyward-Bey?

“If he puts in the work, does things the right way and continues to soak in everything Reggie says, the sky is the limit for this guy,” Grigson said. “There’s a reason why you go seventh overall.”