INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 4, 2015) – Pride pulsated through Reggie Wayne’s veins as he watched two of his apprentices attack their craft Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium.
He looked on as T.Y. Hilton continued to flash his game-changing skills. Hilton slapped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with six receptions, 95 yards and two touchdowns.
A smile crept across Wayne’s face as Donte Moncrief took yet another giant step forward with a career-high eight receptions that generated 114 yards.
Consecutive plays in the third quarter were especially pleasing: Matt Hasselbeck’s 31-yard collaboration with Moncrief followed by a 19-yard touchdown to Hilton.
Wayne’s decorated Colts’ career ended with January’s AFC Championship Game loss at New England, but there’s no denying his lasting impact.
Just as Marvin Harrison served as a tutor to a raw receiver out of the University of Miami in the early 2000s, Wayne took a similar Pay it Forward approach. First with Hilton, a third-round draft pick in 2012, then with Moncrief, taken in the third round in 2014.
“That’s what you do,’’ Wayne said late last year. “You do what you can. You pass along what you know, just like Marv did with me.’’
So Sunday, Wayne beamed. Clearly, his protégés had paid attention.
Wayne spent a few minutes with Hilton and Moncrief in the locker room after the 25-12 victory.
“Like I told them, ‘I feel like a proud father a little bit,’’’ he told Colts.com. “I’m enjoying every bit of it. When I saw them before the game, they told me they were going to have a big game because I was here. I was their good luck charm.”
“It was good to see them doing that. They’ve been doing it all year.’’
Wayne and Harrison were a dynamic duo for eight years before Harrison’s departure after the 2008 season. Then it was Wayne and Hilton, with Moncrief joining the mix last year.
Now, it’s Hilton and Moncrief.
“The bar is so high for them,’’ Wayne said. “They know that they can do so much more and they just want to go out and show all the hard work they’ve been doing and put it on stage.”
“Every time I watch them on TV they are making play after play after play.’’
Hilton has established himself as one of the NFL’s premier big-play threats. Of his 24 career regular-season touchdown catches, 10 have covered at least 40 yards. He made his first Pro Bowl appearance last season on the strength of 82 receptions, 1,345 yards and seven TDs. He joined Harrison and Wayne as the only receivers in club history with multiple 1,000-yard seasons.
And then there’s Moncrief. He was hesitant and inconsistent as a rookie – 32 catches, 444 yards, three TDs – but has emerged in Year 2.
“He’s playing fast. He’s playing physical, confident. You can tell,’’ quarterback Andrew Luck said. “He wants to make plays. As a quarterback, you can tell when a guy is playing fast.’’
Moncrief also is capitalizing when defenses focus too much on Hilton.
“He’s done a great job of making you pay if you’re going to leave him one-on-one or give him a chance,’’ Luck said.
It’s obvious Hasselbeck has complete trust in Moncrief.
Two weeks ago, the Colts and Atlanta were tied at 21-all late in the fourth quarter, and the Colts faced a critical third-and-2 at the Falcons’ 42-yard line. Hasselbeck kept the drive alive by finding Moncrief on a shallow crossing route for a 10-yard completion.
Four plays later, Adam Vinatieri knocked down the game-winning 43-yard field goal with less than a minute to play.
The trust and reliance again were apparent against the Bucs. Hasselbeck targeted Moncrief nine times, and he responded with the eight catches. Each generated a first down.
On a grander scale, Moncrief already has surpassed his rookie totals with a team-high 52 receptions that have produced 584 yards and five TDs.
The reason? Following the lead of Hilton, who followed the lead of Wayne.
Moncrief always is asking questions, seeking advice. He pestered Hilton incessantly during the offseason, asking whether he needed to tweak this workout or that drill.
“That’s actually something I needed,’’ Moncrief said. “I needed somebody I could come to. I needed guys I could watch in practice every day, watch what they do and how they get better every day.’’
“He’s not afraid to ask questions,’’ noted Hilton. “The main thing with me is to continue to teach him, continue to help him. He’s only going to get better.’’
The results are encouraging. Again, Moncrief is playing faster, better.
“It’s just being able to get comfortable in the playbook,’’ he said. “I really worked on that in the offseason, and I’m better at using my speed because that’s such a part of my game.”
“My rookie year I didn’t use my speed as much. I was thinking too much. I didn’t know the playbook.
“Now, I know everything so I can use everything I have.’’
The next opportunity is Sunday night at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field.
That happens to be the site of the first time Hilton and Moncrief offered a view of what’s to come. Even though the Colts were overwhelmed 51-24 last season, Hilton contributed six receptions for 155 yards and one touchdown and Moncrief added seven catches for 113 yards and one TD. It was the first of Moncrief’s four career 100-yard games.