AFC South: LaVon Brazill

LaVon Brazill has himself to blame

July, 11, 2014
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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.

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 -- Giving the veteran players the final day of minicamp off wasn't the only thing Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano told his team before parting ways for the final five weeks before training camp.

Pagano
Pagano's other message to his players was: Avoid causing negative headlines for the franchise.

That's an understandable message from Pagano considering the Colts had three players get in trouble in the summer of 2013.

Receiver LaVon Brazill and tight end Weslye Saunders were suspended by the NFL for violating league policies. Saunders was released and later re-signed. Safety Joe Lefeged was arrested in Washington.

The last thing the Colts need is anymore more negative headlines since owner Jim Irsay (arrested) and linebacker Robert Mathis (suspended) have already given the franchise some unwanted attention this offseason.

"If you look at, every year we get the stats at the owners' meeting when guys happen to make bad choices and this is usually the time of year where the volume of that goes up," Pagano said. "We talk to them daily about it, it doesn't matter what time of year. They do have to make great choices and it's all about protecting the shield and protecting the shoe. If we make a decision, any decision, ‘Is this going to harm the shoe and harm the name on the back of my jersey?' I trust our guys. We've got good character guys and they'll make great decisions."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Listen to members of the Indianapolis Colts talk and the common theme coming out their mouths is having people who fit in with their "horseshoe" tradition.

For so long, being in the "horseshoe" family meant staying out of trouble, proudly representing the organization and being a part of their winning tradition.

[+] EnlargeRobert Mathis
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Colts can get by just fine if owner Jim Irsay is suspended, but it's a different story with sack machine Robert Mathis.
That "horseshoe" image has taken a substantial hit this offseason with two of the Colts' leaders at the forefront of the problems. If owner Jim Irsay's arrest in March wasn't embarrassing enough, Friday's four-game suspension of pass-rush specialist Robert Mathis for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances further put the Colts in a negative light.

Mathis immediately released a statement following the announcement of his suspension that said he tested positive for a fertility drug. He and his wife are expecting a daughter in the fall.

The mistake Mathis made, which he acknowledged in the statement, is that he failed to check with the NFL or the NFL Players Association to see if what he was taking was illegal.

That's a mistake players should not make, especially a veteran like Mathis.

This is the second straight year that the Colts will be missing a player at the start of the season. Receiver LaVon Brazill and tight end Weslye Saunders were suspended for the first four and eight games, respectively, for not following the league's substance-abuse policies.

Indianapolis isn't done with being disciplined.

Commissioner Roger Goodell still has to determine how he will handle Irsay following his arrest for allegedly operating a vehicle while intoxicated in March. He faces four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance. Irsay took part in the team's draft last week and will be in Atlanta for the NFL owners meetings next week after spending time in a rehabilitation facility immediately following his arrest.

There's little doubt Goodell will discipline Irsay. In March, during the league's owners meetings in Orlando, Florida, Goodell said the Colts owner is subject to league discipline for his arrest but would wait "to understand the facts" before making a decision.

The Colts will be able to get by without Irsay if Goodell fines and suspends him as expected because the franchise is in capable hands with general manager Ryan Grigson on the football side and chief operating officer Pete Ward on the business side.

The same can't be said about the Colts' defense without Mathis.

If facing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles in the first two weeks of the season wasn't difficult enough already, now Indianapolis has to figure out a way to slow down those two offenses without the player responsible for 46 percent of their sacks (19.5) last season. Mathis, the heart and soul of the defense, will also miss games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

The Colts' image and aspirations to take another step in the AFC next season took a hit they couldn't afford to take Friday.
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 -- 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.
Andrew LuckElsa/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck could not lead another big comeback during the divisional round of the playoffs.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The locker room was basically empty other than a few players dressing and equipment guys double-checking to make sure nothing was left. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck sat alone at his locker, slowly putting his clothes on, expressionless as if he was replaying the game, or more like his errant throws, in his head.

Luck will eventually take the throne from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but the time's not now. It will come, you can count on it. Luck’s too good and too much of a perfectionist not to let it happen.

Through all the incredible comebacks he orchestrated, through all the times he shook off a blitzing linebacker to complete a throw downfield or tucked the ball and made something out of a broken play, Luck will likely spend the offseason thinking about the throws he didn’t make Saturday night and what it'll take to beat Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots.

Luck’s struggles against the Patriots continued when his four interceptions overshadowed the 331 yards he threw for in the Colts' season-ending 43-22 loss.

“As painful as it is, the experience is what it’s about,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said as he made his way out of Gillette Stadium. “The experience is invaluable. It hurts and it’s a hard time, but these types of moments is how you get better.”

Luck will have to figure out the defensive mind games Belichick likes to play with quarterbacks the same way Manning did with the Patriots coach.

Luck has turned the ball over eight times, including seven interceptions, in two meetings against New England. The Colts lost those games by a total of 56 points.

A sign of things to come occurred on the Colts’ third offensive play, when Luck locked in on receiver LaVon Brazill and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard picked him off.

“Mistakes from the first quarter to the last series,” Luck said. “It was indicative of how the game kind of went for us, for me. It starts on my shoulders on those picks. It stinks.”

Luck managed to shake off the constant pass rush and tight coverage on receiver T.Y. Hilton to have the Colts within seven points of the Patriots in the fourth quarter.

That set the stage for one of those feel-good moments -- you know, the kind where the young stud goes on the road and beats the future Hall of Famer in his own backyard, propelling the Colts to the AFC Championship Game.

That’s what you thought, at least.

After the real star Saturday -- New England running back LeGarrette Blount -- broke free for a 73-yard touchdown, Luck once again locked in his target and was intercepted by linebacker Jamie Collins, ending any chance of the Colts winning.

"Obviously this is not a good feeling right now," Luck said. "It’ll take a while to go away."

Luck’s interceptions weren’t just a one-game situation in the playoffs.

His heroic performance in leading the Colts back from 28 points down in the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs will always be talked about. What may be forgotten is that Luck threw three interceptions in that game, giving him seven in the playoffs.

That’s unacceptable when you consider he only had nine interceptions in the regular season.

“He had been doing a great job of managing the offense and taking care of the football,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “So in those two games, certainly you can’t turn the ball over. He knows it, we know it and I know it. I thought he did a great job the entire season. Obviously you can’t do that when the stakes are this high and when it’s one and done. We’ll work to get that corrected.”

Luck can’t be knocked for not getting the Colts past the Patriots. The fact that he led the Colts to this stage can be looked at as successful. There aren’t many quarterbacks in the NFL that could shake off the loss of their go-to receiver, a sporadic running game and an offensive line that didn't always show up and still lead their team to a division title and playoff victory.

The 24-year-old Luck did.

And just imagine how much better he’ll be when general manager Ryan Grigson puts better talent around him.

“He’s on the right track, the fast track,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. “Gotta let him do his thing. This is his team. He’s our engine, just gotta let him go.”

Luck’s the engine who will spend the offseason breaking down film and being his worst critic to make sure he’ll be back even more powerful next season.

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.”

Defense leading the way for the Colts

January, 3, 2014
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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."

Greg Toler to practice this week

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
6:30
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano gave an update on the team's injured players on Monday.

Toler
Receiver Griff Whalen, who was brought up from the practice squad Saturday, has a strain behind his right knee, but Pagano believes he’ll be fine. Whalen, who had four catches and a touchdown, was one of the last players to leave the locker room after Sunday’s game against Houston because he was receiving treatment.

Cornerback Greg Toler (groin), fullback Stanley Havili (knee), and receiver LaVon Brazill, who all missed the game, are expected to practice Wednesday.

It’ll be interesting to see if cornerback Greg Toler plays against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, because he’s been out eight weeks and the game will be played outdoors in the cold, which is something that could impact his decision to sit out another week since they wrap up the regular season at home against Jacksonville on Dec. 29. Toler went from being limited in practice to not practicing at all by the end of last week.

Offensive lineman Joe Reitz suffered a concussion in the first half against the Texans and is going through the league’s concussion protocol.

Running back Donald Brown (stinger), safety Sergio Brown (groin) and linebacker Daniel Adongo (hamstring) are all day-to-day.

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
4:07
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 25-3 victory over the Houston Texans:

What it means: The Colts didn't wait until the second half to get going offensively. They started on their first offensive series of the game. The Colts mixed up the run with the pass to go 80 yards on 11 plays on their opening drive. The drive ended with quarterback Andrew Luck finding receiver Griff Whalen for a 14-yard touchdown. That was the first time the Colts scored a touchdown in the first quarter since doing it against Denver on Oct. 20. Slow starts have been a problem the past seven weeks for the Colts, but they went into the half with a 20-3 lead. They were 5-of-8 on third down in the first half after going 0-for-6 in the first half against Cincinnati on Dec. 8. The one downside about the Colts on offense is that they started the game 5-for-5 on third down but failed to convert on their final 10 attempts.

Whalen steps up: Whalen has been an afterthought this season after having a strong training camp. He was elevated from the practice squad Saturday because of the injury to fellow receiver LaVon Brazill (foot). He took advantage of the opportunity. Whalen, a college teammate of Luck's at Stanford, caught four passes for 45 yards, returned three punts for 67 yards and a kickoff for 22 yards.

Being honored: Former Colts running backs Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk were inducted into the team's Ring of Honor at halftime. Dickerson rushed for 5,194 yards and 32 touchdowns during his five seasons with the Colts. He won the league's rushing title in 1988, when he gained 1,659 yards to go with 14 touchdowns. The Colts traded Dickerson to the Los Angeles Raiders following the 1991 season. Faulk rushed for 5,320 yards and 42 touchdowns to go with 297 receptions and 2,804 yards in his five seasons with the Colts. He was traded to the St. Louis Rams after the 1998 season because he thought he deserved a raise. Dickerson and Faulk join Robert Irsay, Bill Brooks, Chris Hinton, Ted Marchibroda, Jim Harbaugh, the 12th Man, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James in the team's Ring of Honor.

Injuries: Colts guard Joe Reitz left the game in first half after being tested for a concussion. Starting running back Donald Brown sat out the second half with a stinger. He ran for 38 yards on five carries. Linebacker Daniel Adongo (hamstring) and safety Sergio Brown (groin) also left the game.

What's next: The Colts go on the road to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. The Colts and Chiefs have a chance to face each other in the playoffs in Indianapolis.

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