INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Frank Reich’s eyes lit up when he considered the potential of the Indianapolis Colts offense after Chris Ballard handed him another toy in the form of Parris Campbell.
He already was comforted knowing he’d go into this season with:
- A Pro Bowl quarterback no longer wondering if he could trust his right shoulder (Andrew Luck).
- A four-time Pro Bowl wideout who elevated his game during last season’s playoff push while dealing with high and low sprains to his right ankle (T.Y. Hilton).
- Two Pro Bowl tight ends (Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle).
- An emerging running back who set a franchise playoff record with 148 rushing yards in the first-round playoff win at Houston (Marlon Mack).
- One of the NFL’s premier offensive lines led by All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson.
- A group that a year ago ranked 7th in total yards, 6th in passing yards and 5th in scoring.
Then in the second round of the NFL Draft, Ballard dropped Parris Campbell in Reich’s lap.
“As a coach you always think, ‘Hey, we don’t need anybody else. We already got the best guys in the world playing for us. Now you’re giving us more?’’’ Reich said.
“This isn’t fair. It’s not going to be fair.’’
Hilton took it a step further.
“This offense,’’ he said Tuesday afternoon, “going to be scary, man.’’
Hilton clicked off the reasons we’ve already chronicled: a healthy Luck, the tight ends, the running backs, a deep, diverse group of wideouts, the offensive line.
“It starts with them, and they’re doing a tremendous job up front giving Andrew time,’’ he said.
Hilton’s ever-present smile widened when he considered the addition of Campbell, the 4.31 burner out of Ohio State.
“Rookie we just got, he’s fast,’’ he said. “He’s athletic. Guy can run routes, got great hands, great after the catch.’’
He’s also looking forward to getting to know 6-4, 225-pound wideout Devin Funchess, one of Ballard’s two significant free-agent signings.
“He’s a big-bodied guy,’’ Hilton said, “but he’s fast, also. Has good, solid hands and he can run you over.
“He’ll punch you after the catch.’’
So many targets for Luck to utilize. So many pieces for Reich to move around his chessboard.
But Hilton undoubtedly remains the centerpiece.
Even though it seems like he just arrived in town as an under-the-radar third-round pick out of Florida International, he’s heading into his eighth season.
“It flew by,’’ Hilton said. “I was just telling the guys the other day, ‘This is my eighth year, and I don’t know where the rest of the seven went.’
“Once you’re here you’ve just got to enjoy the moment and seize every opportunity you have.’’
There’s no better example of that mindset than the final six weeks of 2018. That’s when Hilton, already in the midst of a solid season, took his game to another level both in terms of production and resolve.
In week 14 at Houston, he suffered high and low sprains to his right ankle while making a 60-yard catch in the second quarter. It was part of a nine-catch, 199-yard afternoon as the Colts’ playoff surge took another step with a 24-21 win over the Texans.
Moving forward, the ankle needed rest, which wasn’t an option.
“It was a lot of pain, but I’m a team guy,’’ Hilton said. “My teammates needed me.’’
He practiced only a handful of times over the final six weeks, instead spending virtually every waking hour with the medical and rehab staffs.
“A lot of treatment, a lot of treatment,’’ Hilton said. “A lot of hot tub/cold tub. Just (getting) rehab like six times a day. Just trying to get it, man.
“Frank’s a great guy. He came to me and told me, ‘Just continue to get treatment. We trust you.’ The guys needed me on Sunday. My leadership and just being out there affects defenses.
“I was out there giving everything I had.’’
Luck would swing through the training room to make certain Hilton was up to speed with the game plan. Same with Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni.
“We talked about what I needed to do, how I needed to do it,’’ he said. “We were on the same page.’’
Over the final six games and with the balky right ankle, Hilton was never better: 32 receptions for 628 yards and one touchdown on 55 targets. Along with his 199-yard domination of the Texans, he had seven catches for 138 yards in week 16 against the New York Giants.
“As long as I’m out there, I was helping the team no matter what,’’ Hilton said.
That will remain his approach. He conceded he’s “still got a little bit more to go’’ in terms of making a full recovery from the ankle injury, and it’s uncertain how much he’ll participate in the team’s on-going offseason work.
Hilton turns 30 – 30, for cryin’ out loud – in November. He’s one of nine Colts who are 30 or will turn 30 during the season.
The experience he brings to the receivers room is invaluable. Shortly after Funchess signed with the Colts in mid-March, he dialed up Hilton. He called his new teammate “OG’’ (Original Gangster), a term of immeasurable respect.
“He told me those exact words,’’ Hilton said. “I’m the OG. I’m here to help him and whatever he needs.
“I’m here to help the other guys.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.