AFC South: Griff Whalen

INDIANAPOLIS -- The news of the Indianapolis Colts releasing receiver LaVon Brazill on Friday shouldn’t be surprising.

Brazill
Brazill
That was expected.

The only way Brazill had a chance of sticking with the Colts at the conclusion of his suspension, which will be at least a year, was if team officials were compassionate -- the same way they are with owner Jim Irsay -- and realized the receiver has a problem with substance abuse.

That evidently is not the case.

It’s easy to question the whole double-standard thing when talking about Brazill and Irsay because both parties have significant issues they need to address.

The difference between the two, though, is that Irsay is a businessman who helps the franchise. Brazill is a replaceable receiver. The Colts proved that when they signed a receiver -- Aaron Burks -- to take his spot on the roster Friday.

Don’t worry -- Irsay will get his punishment, too, once commissioner Roger Goodell figures out the best discipline for the owner.

As far as Brazill goes, he put himself in the position of not only losing out on the $570,000 he was scheduled to make during the 2014 season, but also being without a team to play on.

He knew that he could be randomly tested up to 10 times a month because he was in Stage 2 of the program following his first suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

He still failed to avoid the temptation.

Now Brazill’s money and roster spot, which wasn’t guaranteed anyway, are gone.

I talked to Da’Rick Rogers on the final day of the Colts’ mandatory minicamp last month and he said he was looking forward to the competition for one of the final receiver spots on the roster.

“I embrace the challenge,” Rogers told me.

You know what?

Rogers and Griff Whalen no longer have to worry about Brazill pushing them in the competition.
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INDIANAPOLIS -- So money over marijuana, LaVon Brazill?

That is what Brazill told reporters in training camp in July 2013 after he revealed he was suspended for the first four games of last season for smoking marijuana.

It turns out that was just talk by the Brazill. Now he won’t be making any of the $570,000 he was scheduled to make in 2014 because taking substances not allowed by the NFL is more important.

Brazill
Brazill
The NFL suspended Brazill for at least the 2014 season for again violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Don’t be surprised if his two-touchdown performance against New England in the playoffs turns out to be the final time you see Brazill in an Indianapolis Colts uniform.

Brazill’s suspension does make things easier for the Colts coaching staff when it comes to picking the final receiver spots on the roster.

He was expected to be one of the primary options with Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen to compete for possibly up to two receiving spots on the roster depending on how many the Colts decide to keep.

Now Rogers and Whalen have the inside track if the Colts go with six receivers on the roster. The Colts are set with the first four receivers: Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief.
INDIANAPOLIS -- A common phrase used by the Indianapolis Colts last season was: power running game.

They had do-everything quarterback Andrew Luck, but they insisted on a being a run-first team. The only sign of that working happened in their Week 3 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Injuries and lack of running game from Trent Richardson and Donald Brown forced the Colts to basically become a no-huddle offensive team by the end of the season.

They started the season mixing in some two-back sets. They ended it basically using one-back, one-tight-end, three-receiver sets.

Luck
New season, new mind frame from offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.

"We’re going to be a score-first team," Hamilton said. "We’re going to do whatever we need to do to score one more point than our opponent."

Don’t kid yourself; Hamilton won't allow Luck to drop back in the pocket and fling the ball downfield -- even if he does have plenty of weapons at his disposal -- 50 times per game. The Colts will still run the ball, which is why they have three backs they think will carry the load.

But as Hamilton said, it’s all about scoring more points than the opponent, and that likely will end up being with Luck doing what he does best: using his arm.

The Colts threw the ball 582 times and ran it 409 times last season.

"Our mentality has not changed; we have to be physical at the point of attack. We have to try and knock people off the ball and wear them down physically," Hamilton said. "We have to have a sense of balance and still have a physical mentality, make up going into games so we can wear our opponents down how we see fit."

Hamilton had an opportunity to leave the NFL to become the head coach at Vanderbilt, but he decided to return to the Colts because he believes in the product they have in the organization. He’s back for Year 2 as an NFL offensive coordinator, and instead of being forced to dig deep into the playbook to find plays to suit their offensive personnel, Hamilton should have a cupboard full of healthy players next season barring any setbacks with their return from injuries.

By Week 7 last season, the Colts were without tight end Dwayne Allen, guard Donald Thomas, running backs Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw and receiver Reggie Wayne for the season. Those players were replaced by Jack Doyle, Weslye Saunders, Hugh Thornton, Brown, Richardson, Da’Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen.

No offense to those players, but that’s a drop-off for Hamilton, who at times made some questionable play calls to work with.

Things should be different this season for him and the Colts.

"Not only do we have some guys that are proven playmakers in the National Football League, but we have an opportunity to build on what we accomplished last year and hopefully take that next step," Hamilton said. "It’ll be great to have Reggie, Dwayne and all those guys available to see if we can go out and accomplish our ultimate goal.

"The toughest part [of last season] was making sure that we had the packages available to accommodate the personnel changes that were made from week to week. When I say personnel changes, I’m talking about the attrition, the attrition that we had to deal with. Other than that, it wasn’t tough. When you have Andrew Luck, that really gives you an ability to adapt to whatever the circumstances are and have a chance to be successful."

Colts' performance-based pay

March, 25, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Nine Indianapolis Colts players received performance-based incentives for more than $100,000 each during the 2013 season. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman and offensive line Hugh Thornton both earned more than $218,000.

The incentives are based off playing time and a player’s base salary. Veteran backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck received only $827.05 out of the $3.46 million which teams are allotted. The money usually benefits minimum-salaried free-agent signings and players on their first NFL contracts who end up playing a lot.

Here’s a breakdown of the top-10 performance bonuses on the Colts.

LB Jerrell Freeman $248,772.35

OL Hugh Thornton $218,167.75

WR T.Y. Hilton $162,808.35

FB Stanley Havili $132,945.28

TE Jack Doyle $128,223.40

DE Ricardo Mathews $118,490.40

LB Cam Johnson $109,230.89

WR Griff Whalen $101,056.36

LB Kelvin Sheppard $100,435.98

LB Mario Harvey $92,307.29

Here’s a breakdown of the bottom-10 performance bonuses on the roster.

WR Reggie Wayne $6,651.65

TE Dwayne Allen $5,711.86

C Khaled Holmes $4,695.54

TE Justice Cunningham $3,913.60

OL Donald Thomas $3,384.86

K Adam Vinatieri $2,738.82

RB Robert Hughes $2,618.30

RB Kerwynn Williams $2,494.16

OL Thomas Austin $1,816.86

QB Matt Hasselbeck $827.05
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jonathan Martin's connection to the Indianapolis Colts will continue to draw attention as long as signs continue to point to Martin and the Miami Dolphins parting ways.

Martin
Martin was teammates with Andrew Luck, Griff Whalen, Delano Howell and Coby Fleener at Stanford. Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was also on staff at Stanford.

Fleener spoke out about Martin after the Ted Wells' report was released earlier this month. Then Luck told Pro Football Talk in an interview earlier this week that he would be in favor of the Colts adding Martin, who was bullied by Richie Incognito and two other teammates with the Dolphins.

“I'd say I love Jon, we had a great time at Stanford together, still stay in touch with him regularly and I think he's a great man,” Luck said.

Miami is expected to trade or release Martin at some point during the offseason.

There's zero doubt that the Colts would welcome Martin inside the locker room. That's how they are and why they've been able to overcome different obstacles each of the past two seasons.

But trading for Martin is not an option. He is a tackle. Indianapolis is set at tackle with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus. The Colts need help at guard and center.

The Colts could try to sign Martin to be a backup tackle if the Dolphins release him.

Still, chatter about Martin and the Colts will remain until he finds his next team.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The start of the free agency is less than two weeks away. Receiver is one of the positions that the Indianapolis Colts need to address through free agency, trade or the draft.

It’s about the present and the future for them at that position.

Decker
Depth was an issue for the Colts at the start of last season. It was a bigger issue when Reggie Wayne crumbled to the ground with a torn ACL against Denver in Week 7 and it remained an issue when the season ended last month.

The Colts can't get away with not adding any players at receiver. All indications point to Wayne returning from his knee injury, but you have to be realistic, too. Nobody knows what type of player he’ll be when he returns because he’s 35 years old. That leaves T.Y. Hilton and young receivers like Da'Rick Rogers, LaVon Brazill and Griff Whalen.

This takes us to the free-agent market. There was a report Wednesday that the Colts have interest in Denver receiver Eric Decker.

Decker is looking for a big payday like all free agents do. He told SiriusXM NFL Radio in an interview earlier this month that he needs to do what is the “best for my family.”

The Colts will have money to spend – the fourth-most salary cap space – but they’re going to be frugal spenders with all their money. That's bascially what general manager Ryan Grigson said last week at the combine.

Decker caught 87 passes for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.

My issue with Decker is that you can't pay him like he’s a No. 1 receiver because he’s not a No. 1 receiver. He's more of a solid No. 2 receiver. He put up those nice numbers while not having to face the other team's best cornerback. Things could be different if Decker's asking price isn’t too much.

And if that’s the case, why leave Peyton Manning and Denver when you have a chance to make at least one more run at winning the Super Bowl?

Here's a look at some 2013 stats of some notable wideouts who are set to hit the free-agent market:

INDIANAPOLIS -- At some point, offensive lineman Jonathan Martin and the Miami Dolphins will part ways from what's turned into a disastrous relationship.

Martin
And when that happens, whatever team acquires Martin next will be getting a hard-working player, according to one of his former teammates at Stanford.

"He's physical at the line of scrimmage, smart guy, understands the offense well," Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener said. "I think he would be a great teammate for anybody to have."

Ted Wells' report last week determined that Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito and two of his teammates bullied Martin.

Fleener stayed in touch with Martin via text message.

"I didn't really look at it as who was going to be wrong and who was going to be right, I just wanted the best for Jonathan regardless of who was wrong or right," Fleener said. "I didn't talk to him about the specifics or anything like that because I felt like it wasn't my place. If he wanted to talk about it that was fine. I really just wanted to make sure he was doing alright."

Martin has ties with a number of Colts.

He and Fleener, receiver Griff Whalen, quarterback Andrew Luck, safety Delano Howell and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton were all together at Stanford.

The Colts are in need of help on the interior part of the offensive line. But Martin plays tackle and the Colts are set there with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus.

"I don't really campaign for anybody," Fleener said. "I think that's up to our GM [Ryan Grigson] and coaching staff. They've done an awesome job putting together the team. If Coach [Chuck Pagano] or Mr. Grigson asked me, I would have nothing but support for Jonathan."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The scouting combine is less than a week away at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. talked about how the Indianapolis Colts should be able to draft an interior lineman (guard or center) when they select in the second round during a recent conference call.

Bush
Wayne
Receiver is another position Kiper Jr. is excited about. He believes there could be up to eight receivers going in the first round if they test well. There are 19 underclassmen receivers entering in the draft, so there is a chance the Colts could have an opportunity to get one in the later rounds.

“A lot these kids are underclassmen, so you have to be conservative,” Kiper said. “They have to test well to be a legitimate first-round pick.”

The Colts entered last season with depth issues at receiver. The depth became even more-dire when Reggie Wayne went down with a torn ACL and Darrius Heyward-Bey struggled.

There is still concern at receiver because Wayne has to prove he can regain his form following surgery, and young receivers like Da'Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen and LaVon Brazill continue to develop. T.Y. Hilton is currently the only sure thing at receiver for the Colts.

Colts tight end Dwayne Allen will be happy because Kiper Jr. has Clemson’s Sammy Watkins as the top receiver in his list of the top 10 at that position in a pre-combine breakdown.

Click here Insider to see Kiper’s top-10 receivers heading into next week’s combine.
I’m sure you all have read, watched or heard about Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman's key play and postgame comments after they beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game to advance to the Super Bowl. You don’t have the Internet, a TV or radio if this is the first you’ve heard about Sherman’s antics.

He’s made Peyton Manning’s third Super Bowl appearance a footnote so far.

Several Indianapolis Colts took to Twitter to give their opinion on Sherman’s key play and postgame interview.

 

Two QBs who can produce regardless

January, 11, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The transition for one was more bumpy than smooth. His top receiver, his security blanket, the one who often found a way to get open no matter the situation, lay on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium slapping the ground almost three months ago.

The other has five Super Bowl appearances on his resume, but not even the future Hall of Famer could say things were easy right away without his go-to guy.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/AJ MastAndrew Luck overcame security blanket Reggie Wayne's absence by placing a priority on jelling with the other Colts receivers.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck overcame his early struggles of not having Reggie Wayne by working, and working some more, to develop continuity with his young receivers. New England quarterback Tom Brady's transition without tight end Rob Gronkowski started out shaky, too, but evened out as the season progressed.

Luck and Brady will be the marquee names in Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game, and they're the reason why the two teams have reached this point. They've proven they can get the most out of their unproven receivers.

"[It's been] a challenge, but also an opportunity for guys," Luck said. "[They've] made the most of it. [Coach Chuck Pagano] tells us every week, 'Everybody prepares like a starter.' You never know, the injuries, whatever it is, it's an unfortunate part of the game."

LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen and Da'Rick Rogers aren't names people immediately bring up when talking about the Colts' receiving corp. Brazill was suspended the first four games of the season. Whalen and Rogers spent most of the season on the practice squad. But there was Rogers going up and outleaping a Kansas City Chiefs' defender to bring in a 46-yard pass from Luck in the wild-card playoff game last Saturday.

Brady had Gronkowski, one of the league's best tight ends, for all of seven games before a knee injury ended his season.

Enter Julian Edelman.

Who? Exactly.

The 5-foot-10 went from having a career-high 21 receptions in 2012 to hauling in 105 passes -- good enough for fourth in the league -- for 1,056 yards this season.

"Obviously, [the Patriots] got a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in Tom Brady that is under center running that whole thing," Pagano said. "We've got guys that are athletic and guys that can make plays. They've got guys that are athletic and can make plays. They've done a good job of bringing guys in and plugging them in. That system has been in place. They make adjustments here and there. But he's done a great job with adjusting to life without Gronk, life without some of the other guys. It's going to be a huge challenge."

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsWith Tom Brady under center and Rob Gronkowski out for the season with an injured knee, Julian Edelman stepped up.
It seems like there's a revolving door when it comes to the Patriots and their players. There's not too many Waynes or Marvin Harrisons, players who have spent their entire career with the same team, there. The Patriots have no problem replacing a player and bringing in somebody else, which is part of the reason why Brady always seems to be able to find a way to make things work.

"For me, over the course of playing a few years we lost certain guys at certain points in the year," Brady said. "I think the main thing is just to try to figure out what you need to do as an offense to still be productive. You can lose a tight end or receiver or running back at any point in any game, and no one really feels sorry for you at that point.

"Losing any player hurts on offense or defense, but you've still got to have enough guys on your team and have enough flexibility within your game plan to adapt and make the changes necessary so you can still be productive."

Luck and Brady both had built-in excuses if they struggled all season. Their competitive nature wouldn't allow it, though. It pushed them more.

They handle things in different ways -- Luck isn't one to be seen on camera going off on the sidelines during a game -- but one of the things they have in common is that they're demanding and expect the best out of their teammates.

Extra time in the film room. Extra passes before and after practice to ensure their timing is right. The conversations they have as they walk down the hallway at the facility.

Luck had to do those things to make sure he had somebody else to go to when T.Y. Hilton was not an option.

Luck had a relationship with Whalen because they were teammates at Stanford. Brazill and Luck were teammates as rookies, but the starting quarterback didn't have much to work with when it came to Rogers because most of his passes were thrown by backups Matt Hasselbeck and Chandler Harnish while on the practice squad.

Trust is a necessity between quarterback and receiver. Luck showed he had it in Rogers when the rookie caught six passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns Dec. 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"He does do a good job of staying on top of us," Rogers said. "We're like a family here and when something needs to be done, it's nothing personal. It's what we need to have done to win the game.

"We might be walking down the hall and he might grab you for a minute and talk about a play or talk about a certain concept. It's all day long, in the middle of practice, before practice, in meetings, in the film room."
INDIANPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts receiver Deion Branch will catch 10 passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns against his former team, the New England Patriots, in Saturday's AFC divisional round playoff game.

Come on now, that's probably one of the first things you thought about when you heard the news of the Colts signing Branch late Monday afternoon.

Sorry, I don't see that happening. In fact, I'd be surprised if Branch has much of a presence on the field against New England.

[+] EnlargeDeion Branch
Rob Tringali/Getty ImagesDeion Branch, who has not played since last season's AFC Championship Game, has 39 career touchdowns in 11 seasons with the Seahawks and Patriots.
He has only three days to learn the Colts' system and try to develop some timing with quarterback Andrew Luck.

“I think it'll be a seamless transition for him,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Again, time will tell with that. [We'll find out] when we get him in here, when we get him in meetings and get him out [on the practice field]. It's probably a matter from a terminology standpoint. I'm sure he's run all the concepts that we've run. It's just a matter of becoming familiar with the play calls and terminology, which I don't think he will have a problem with.”

The Colts didn't sign Branch to suddenly become T.Y. Hilton's sidekick as the No. 2 receiver. Branch, a former Super Bowl MVP, hasn't played in a game since having two catches for 16 yards against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 20, 2013, while he was with the Patriots. He has 518 receptions for 6,644 yards and 39 touchdowns in his career.

Pagano mentioned signing Branch because of injury concerns at receiver. Darrius Heyward-Bey will miss Saturday's game with a hamstring injury, prompting the Colts to elevate wide receiver Josh Lenz from the practice squad Monday.

Heyward-Bey had been relegated to mainly special teams the past few weeks. The Colts are set at the top four receiver spots with Hilton, Da'Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen and LaVon Brazill. There would be a reason to have more optimism about Branch passing those guys on the depth chart if he had actually played during the 2013 season.

Branch, 34, will provide any information he can about the Patriots and he'll also help the receiving group prepare for the biggest game of their young NFL careers. Anything he provides on the field will be a bonus.

There's nothing wrong with the Colts signing Branch. Just don't expect an out-of-this-world performance by him against the Patriots on Saturday.

“If you look at as far as bringing in a veteran guy that's played at a level he's played at for such a long period of time, I don't see how it could hurt you,” Pagano said. “Again, we'll see how fast he picks up the terminology in the offense. We all know he's more than capable of making plays. Again with DHB being out for a period of time, all those types of things, just adding him to the mix, it can't hurt.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- We’ve all witnessed Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's ability to strap his team on his back and lead it to come-from-behind victories during his first two NFL seasons.

Luck has developed a nice continuity with young receivers Da'Rick Rogers, LaVon Brazill and Griff Whalen to go with T.Y. Hilton in recent weeks.

[+] EnlargeRobert Mathis
AP Photo/Ric TapiaRobert Mathis and the Colts have allowed just 20 total points over their past three games.
Luck, however, is not the reason behind the Colts’ three-game winning streak. Don't get me wrong, Luck has been good, but you have to look at the defense when it comes to giving credit to the team’s recent success.

The Colts head into Saturday’s wild-card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs having forced eight turnovers and feasting on opposing quarterbacks like they’re at a buffet, registering 12 sacks in their three-game winning streak.

“Accountability. No personnel shifts. No change in schemes. No world-changing type of deals. It’s just holding guys accountable,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. “If you’re not doing your job, you’re going to be called out within ourselves, not in the media or anything like that. It’s guys being accountable.”

The Colts have given up an average of 6.7 points, 292 yards and 24.3 percent on third down in the past three games.

Those numbers are a drastic change from when they were giving up big plays, a lot of yards and a lot of points prior to the winning streak.

The Colts went through a six-game stretch where they gave up an average of 30.8 points, 397 yards, including three games of at least 410 yards, and opponents converted 46.9 percent of third-down opportunities. The defensive players didn’t trust each other, forcing too many players to try to do too much by themselves.

“I just think any time you give up a long run, a big pass in the secondary or whatever, a big pass play, it’s just all the guys have to be on the same page,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Everybody has got to do their job. It only takes one breakdown. Ten guys can be doing exactly the right thing, and one guy could be not on the same page.”

Indianapolis sacked Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith five times and forced four turnovers in its victory against the Chiefs on Dec. 22.

The defense should be relatively healthy Saturday, as defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin (knee) and defensive end Fili Moala (knee) are the only two players listed as questionable for the game.

“To be a good defense, you got to get turnovers,” Mathis said. “That’s one of the foundations of being a good defense, getting the ball into your quarterback’s hands. And we have a quarterback that can do some good things with it. So to be able to wrestle the ball away from the offense and get those extra possessions, it helps our team tremendously.”
INDIANAPOLIS – Nine.

That’s the number of receptions the Indianapolis Colts’ receivers have in their playoff career. Take starting receiver T.Y. Hilton out of the mix and that number goes down to one.

The Colts will head into Saturday’s wild-card playoff matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs with an inexperienced receiving group.

[+] EnlargeT.Y. Hilton
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsColts receiver T.Y. Hilton gained valuable experience during last season's trip to the playoffs.
Hilton and veteran receiver Reggie Wayne plan to talk to receivers Griff Whalen, Da’Rick Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey, who will be making their playoff debuts, about what to expect Saturday.

The coverage will be tighter. It’ll be harder to get off jams at the line of scrimmage. Defenses will be quicker.

“It’s very different from the regular season,” Hilton said. “It’s one and done, so guys are playing extra hard, going 1,000 miles faster than the regular season. All in all it’s about who is better that day.”

Hilton had eight catches for 66 yards in the Colts’ playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last season. LaVon Brazill had one catch for 17 yards.

Two of the receivers – Whalen and Rogers – spent a significant amount of time on the practice squad this season. Whalen at least played in bowl games while at Stanford, so he has something he can sort of compare the playoffs to. Rogers doesn’t have that luxury.

“I personally prepare like it’s any other game, but with emphasis that it is the playoffs and you have to find that extra gear to get the game won,” Rogers said. “I’ve been on the practice squad most of the season. I’m more excited to get out there. So I’ll be revved up on adrenaline.”

Whalen, Rogers and Brazill have made significant strides since Wayne was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Week 7.

The three combined for 50 catches for 612 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season.

Whalen had an advantage because he was Luck’s teammate at Stanford and their offensive coordinator there, Pep Hamilton, is the Colts' offensive coordinator and he’s using the same passing plays he used while coaching them in college.

“The quarterback-receiver dynamic is all about trust and the quarterback has to trust that the receiver is going to get to the spot and or beat man coverage,” Hamilton said. “That was one of the things that Reggie, of course, afforded for the offense. Once Reggie went down we had to recallabrate, if you would, and just find a way to mix and match guys with certain concepts and certain situations. Try to put guys in position to do what they do best and we feel like we picked the right time to identify the niche of different guys.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The first two games without Reggie Wayne lined up opposite of him were pretty easy for Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton.

A 121-yard, three-touchdown game was followed by a 130-yard game for Hilton. Then came double-teams by the opponents to slow the second-year speedster down. The 100-yard receiving games became non-existent for Hilton for six straight weeks for Hilton. He had a game with only 7 yards receiving during that stretch.

[+] EnlargeT.Y. Hilton
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesT.Y. Hilton had a career-high 11 catches for 155 yards in Sunday's win over Jacksonville.
Frustrated? No. It was just difficult for Hilton because he was in the position of having to be the go-to receiver a lot sooner than he or many others expected this early in his career.

A sign of change happened for Hilton against Houston on Dec. 15 when he caught a career-high eight passes.

His career day in receptions and yards happened against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

Hilton had a career-high 11 catches for 155 yards -- also a career high -- in the Colts' 30-10 victory over the Jaguars.

“For me, I know the ball is going to come to me,” Hilton said. “It’s just about being patient. They were doubling me. They did that a little, but I’m adjusting to the double-teams and finding a way to get open and finding the spot [quarterback] Andrew [Luck] expects me to be at.”

Hilton was Luck’s primary target early in the game. He caught three passes for 26 yards on the Colts’ opening drive that ended with a Donald Brown touchdown. Hilton had already surpassed his previous career high of eight catches by halftime when he had nine receptions for 95 yards. Luck was 11-of-15 when he targeted Hilton.

Hilton surpassed 1,000-yards receiving for the first time in his career in the first half. Hilton said that was a goal of his coming into the season and even joked that he accomplished the feat quicker than Wayne. It took Wayne four years to record his first 1,000-yard season. When told of Hilton’s comments, Wayne joked back, “Let me know when you get to 11,000 [yards].”

Hilton was easy to defend earlier because he didn’t have much help at receiver. Darrius Heyward-Bey wasn’t cutting it. LaVon Brazill still hadn’t found a rhythm. David Reed was so bad that he ended up getting released. But things have opened up some for Hilton recently because Luck has developed continuity with Brazill, Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen, which will help Hilton and the rest of the offense in the playoffs.

“We know how dynamic he is and we talk a lot about how much of a playmaker he is,” Luck said. “So if we can get the ball in his hands, good things happen. ... [The other receivers are] opening him up, and the tight ends and the running backs. We know the more you can spread the ball around, the better for T.Y. because the more he opens up I think.”

From receiver to special teams for DHB

December, 23, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It was one of those moments where you grab a tissue and wipe your glasses, blink several times to make sure your contacts haven't dried out or rub your eyes to make sure you aren't seeing things.

Darrius Heyward-Bey sprinted down the sideline in front of the Indianapolis Colts' bench, beat his man and tackled Kansas City Chiefs punt returner Dexter McCluster for a two-yard loss in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Heyward-Bey wasn't done. He raced down field and downed Pat McAfee's punt at Kansas City's 6-yard line a series later.

[+] EnlargeDarrius Heyward-Bey
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsWho is that player tackling Chiefs returner Dexter McCluster? Why, it's Colts WR Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft, on special teams?

Darrius Heyward-Bey, the player Colts general manager Ryan Grigson signed to be the team's No. 2 receiver this season, on special teams?

Yes and yes.

Heyward-Bey isn't sulking or turning into a locker room problem about playing on special teams. He's actually embracing the role.

"I'm taking it and running with it," Heyward-Bey said. "This is the first time that I've ever been in the playoffs, first time with double-digit wins. I put my ego to the side. I'm all about this team. I think we're a special team. I just want to go out there and help anyway I can."

Heyward-Bey doesn't have a history of playing on special teams. The Dec. 15 game against the Houston Texans was the first time he has ever played on special teams. He didn't do it in high school. He didn't do it at the University of Maryland. And he didn't do it during his time with the Oakland Raiders.

Heyward-Bey gets credit for taking advantage of the opportunity. But you have to be realistic, too. The Colts didn't sign him to a one-year, $2.5-million contract to chase down punt returners. They signed him to start opposite of Reggie Wayne at receiver.

Heyward-Bey has 29 catches -- none the past two games -- this season and he's been surpassed by LaVon Brazill, Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen on the depth chart at receiver. Heyward-Bey's playing time at receiver the past two games has been reduced to short yardage situations where he's lined up on the outside and it's obvious the Colts are going to run the ball.

"It's always hard for a guy who believes in his ability," Heyward-Bey said about his reduced role at receiver. "You know the situation at hand and you respect what the coaches are doing and that they're trying to win football games. You just adjust. That's life. You adjust to what's going on and try to make the best of the opportunity."

Heyward-Bey's positive attitude about the situation hasn't gone unnoticed by those in the organization.

"His type of behavior is not real common these days," Grigson said. "Regardless of the circumstances, a former seventh overall pick could have gone the opposite direction and acted like a diva, but that's not Darrius. He has handled everything with such high character, selflessness and grace. Whether it's helping the younger receivers with their assignments, running plays on card team or making plays on special teams, he is doing whatever he can to help us win. He is a true example of what our head coach has preached from day one. All about the team, not self."

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