NFL

Colts' Luck has dangerous receiving corps at his disposal

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Andrew Robichaud, TSN.ca
8/29/2014 11:05:00 PM
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There is almost nothing that happens to the Indianapolis Colts that isn't a direct cause of, or has a direct effect on, Andrew Luck.

The third-year quarterback has more than lived up to the expectations left by his predecessor Peyton Manning and his early success is only raising the bar each season.

Luck's 8,196 passing yards are the most for a quarterback through his first two NFL seasons and his 22 wins are second all-time behind another third-year quarterback, Seattle's Russell Wilson.

After bringing a two-win team to 11 wins in his first season and winning the AFC South in his sophomore year, is it third time's a charm for Luck and the Colts in 2014?

That is still to be determined.

What can be said for sure is he is one year older and the conductor of what could be one of the league's most dangerous wide receiver trios in 2014.

At the tender age of 35, Reggie Wayne is ready to reclaim his place as the Colts' No. 1 receiver just 10 and a half months after tearing his ACL.

“I feel like I kind of left them hanging a little bit last year, so I want to be back out there with my teammates,” he said at the end of June.

Wayne had one of his most prolific seasons in 2012 – Luck's rookie year – catching 106 passes for 1,355 yards, but managed just seven games last season due to the career-threatening injury.

It's hard to believe Wayne will be in the physical shape he was as a ripe 24-year-old, but the happy and hungry six-time Pro Bowler believes he has some gas left in the tank.

“This has probably been the healthiest I've been probably since '02,” Wayne said.

“One blessing I do take out of last year is maybe it was time for me to kind of let my body heal a little bit…and I've done that.”

But Wayne isn't the only veteran itching to return to form in blue and white.

Six-year receiver Hakeem Nicks joined the Colts as an unrestricted free agent a week after hinting a desire to move to Indianapolis in March.

“I would be dangerous with a quarterback like Andrew Luck," Nicks told ESPN.com.

Nicks spent the first six years of his career with the New York Giants, collecting consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 2010 and 2011 as well as catching 10 passes for 109 yards in the Giants' Super Bowl XLVI triumph over the New England Patriots in February 2012.

At 6-foot-1, Nicks will likely be most dangerous as a red zone target, where the Colts connected on just 56 per cent of their opportunities in 2013.

Two seasoned receivers expected to attract a fair amount of attention from opposing defences will open doors for another third-year superstar, T.Y. Hilton.

The more likely scenario for the electrifying Hilton is that he opens up space for the rest of the pass attack.

“We've got some new things that we want to do,” T.Y. Hilton told JMV on ESPN 1070 The Fan two weeks before the start of training camp. 

“Right now we are just getting everyone caught up to pace… we are going to be 100 miles per hour with the playbook.”

Hilton has already racked up a stunning 10 100-yard receiving games in his first two seasons, tied for second most in NFL history.

His 1,083 yards in 2013 were 475 more than the Colts' next leading receiver, tight end Coby Fleener. Hilton's 82 receptions were also 30 more than Fleener's 52.

The Miami native also established himself as a lethal deep threat last season with seven catches of more than thirty yards and three of 50 or more, including a 73-yard touchdown in Week 5 against the Seahawks.

Like Luck, Hilton doesn't intend on slowing down.

“It has been incredible,” Hilton said at his inaugural children's football summer camp on July 12. “I'm just enjoying the ride. Enjoying the moment. That's what it's all about, and I'm still learning.”

For the second half of the 2013 campaign – after Wayne's season-ending injury – Luck was throwing to receivers with a grand total of zero 1,000-yard campaigns, including a sophomore Hilton.

In 2014, should Hilton, Nicks and Wayne be in the starting lineup in the season opener on Sept. 7 against the Denver Broncos, Luck will begin his quest for football's ultimate prize with 11 combined 1,000-yard seasons on the résumés of his top three wide receivers.

Bombs away!

GROUND AND POUND

When the Colts traded away their 2014 first-round pick for Trent Richardson two games into last season, it can be safe to say they were hoping for the player who was once considered one of the NFL's top running back prospects in recent memory.

They were hoping for the player who collected 950 yards and 11 touchdowns in his rookie season in 2012.

What they got was a shadow of Richardson's potential. His 157 carries in 14 games in Indianapolis netted a measly 2.9 yards per carry and three touchdowns. By comparison, Luck ran for four touchdowns.

"It was ambitious to think that he could come in -- What was it? -- Week 3 or 4 last year, and pick it up to hit the ground running,” Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said during the team's off-season workouts in mid-July.

“It was one of those situations where the defence knew when we put him in the game that more than likely we were running the football and they were packing the box. He was faced with some tremendously tough looks, but he'll be better in 2014."

Or so they hope.

TIGHT SHIP

In addition to an obviously talented group of wide receivers, the Colts have another offensive dimension in third-year tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.

Allen, who played 32 snaps last season before suffering a season-ending hip injury, is hoping to return to his rookie form where he caught 45 passes for 521 yards and a touchdown in 2012.

The Colts, and tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts, see Allen's return as a new beginning.

“Getting him back is like getting a brand new player,” Roberts said, via the team's website on July 10. “His skillset allows us to protect it up, or throw it or run it when we see the advantage.”

In Fleener, the Colts have a growing product that caught 52 passes for 608 yards and four touchdowns in his sophomore season.

The is 6-foot-6, 244 lbs. Lemont, Illinois native doubled his receptions, yards and touchdowns over the first two years of his pro career and is poised to go even higher.

OLD GUARD DOG

Robert Mathis, a six-time Pro Bowler, is a beacon of consistency.

The outside linebacker, and oldest member of the Colts defence, has missed 13 regular-season games since he first broke into the NFL in 2003.

However, coming off one of the best seasons of his career in which he led the NFL with 19.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles, the 33-year-old will be forced to miss four more to start the 2014 season after using a fertility drug banned by the NFL due to its performance-enhancing properties.

The Colts will have to make do without the heart and soul of their defence for four games, but the club certainly isn't concerned about Mathis when he returns.

"He only knows one speed," Colts GM Ryan Grigson told the Indy Star in June. "There's never any throttling back, no matter what. He always sets the tone and the precedent out there, how you do this, how you work, how you practice.”

"He's a guy who doesn't miss."

Andrew Luck (Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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