ANDERSON — Andrew Luck’s best throw came late in Tuesday’s practice, and it wouldn’t have been possible without T.Y. Hilton.
As Luck scrambled behind the line of scrimmage, avoiding the oncoming rush, Hilton broke free in the back of the end zone. He raised his hand to alert his quarterback, and Luck stepped forward to launch a rocket into the former Florida International star’s arms.
As he has almost all offseason, Hilton held on.
In their second year together, Luck and Hilton seem to be on the same page. And that’s no accident.
They spent time last month working alongside Reggie Wayne in south Florida trying to make certain their encore performance is even better than their debut.
“We know it’s going to be harder,” Hilton said. “Guys are going to expect that. But we did a great job in Miami getting the timing down. He knows where I’m going to be, and I know what he is thinking. So, right now, it should just be fun and just go deep.”
Hilton went deep often in his rookie season. He averaged a healthy 17.2 yards per reception and led the team with seven touchdowns. He was the team’s most productive receiver late in the season and finished with 50 catches for 861 yards overall.
He entered training camp in a competition with free-agent addition Darrius Heyward-Bey to become the No. 2 receiver and still is likely to serve as the team’s primary punt returner.
So far, new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has used Hilton all over the field. He’s lined up on the outside to the left and the right, and he’ll also see time in the slot.
No matter where he plays, or what unit he’s running with, he’s been consistently turning heads.
“That guy’s a freak,” head coach Chuck Pagano said. “I’d hate to be the guy on the opposite side of the ball. I know our defensive guys make sure they know where he’s at all the time. He just keeps growing and growing and growing.”
The Colts traded back into the third round of last year’s draft to select Hilton, 28 spots after they’d landed tight end Dwayne Allen. Despite becoming the leading receiver in Florida International history, Hilton slipped because of a hamstring injury that limited his ability to flash his game-breaking speed during the draft process.
He missed the season opener at Chicago but quickly showed Indianapolis was correct to take the risk. In addition to his receiving numbers, Hilton averaged 11.5 yards on 26 punt returns.
He even made franchise history during a 20-13 victory against Buffalo on Nov. 25, becoming the first Colt ever to return a punt for a score and catch a touchdown pass in the same game.
“The game is so easy to him,” Pagano said. “He is so smart. He has put so much time in not only in the weight room, on the practice field working his craft, but in the classroom. He understands what’s going on. He knows exactly where to line up. He knows every call.”
He also has one of the best role models imaginable.
Entering his 13th season, Reggie Wayne needs just 32 catches for 1,000 in his career. He’s also closing in on the franchise record for receiving yards with a career total of 13,063. Throw in a pair of Super Bowl appearances, one championship ring and the fact he’s still going strong at age 34, and there’s a career well worth emulating.
“Everyone is trying to get to where he is at,” Hilton said. “Floyd [Mayweather Jr.] is a great boxer and everyone wants to get where he’s at, and Reggie is a great receiver and a Hall of Famer. So everyone wants to get where he is at. So for me to be right there next to him, I just feel blessed.”
Hilton feels similarly blessed to be on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Two years after finishing 2-14 and earning the No. 1 pick in the draft, Indianapolis is setting its sights on the game’s ultimate prize.
The Colts improved to 11-5 last season and earned an AFC Wild Card playoff berth, and Hilton believes this year could be even better.
“Right now we are doing all the things in the right way,” he said. “Coach has got us set up where we can win ballgames. He put this team together, and we should be able to win.”