T.Y. Hilton understood this year's challenge.
The Colts needed their speedy, second-year receiver to be a more reliable pass catcher, a better route runner and a more consistent deep threat even if he wasn't listed as a starter after training camp.
Through five weeks, the smallish receiver has had a big hand in Indianapolis' success.
"The game is slowing down for me," Hilton said Thursday. "You know I had a whole offseason to work with Reggie (Wayne) and Andrew (Luck), and I learned a lot from Reggie about getting in and out of breaks."
The Colts never doubted Hilton's ability to be a game-changer, which is why they made a trade to get the little-known receiver late in the third round of the 2012 draft. Indy's scouts clocked him in the 40-yard dash at 4.37 seconds, running into the wind.
What other teams saw was a 5-foot-9, 178-pound receiver from a small FBS school, a combination that doesn't always project well when facing the giants of the NFL.
But Hilton has never let size get in the way of his productivity.
He was a second-team all-state selection in Florida's biggest prep class, 6A, and became the highest-drafted player from Florida International after setting school records for receptions (229), yards receiving (3,351) and touchdowns (24), winning the Sun Belt's freshman of the year award in 2008 and the league's player of the year award in 2010.
"I go back to the very first tape that I saw on him when we were evaluating him," Pagano said. "I think they were playing Louisville and the first three times he touched the ball, I think he went 50, 65 and 70 yards."
That play-making ability showed up on last year's game tapes, too.
As a rookie, Hilton caught 50 passes for 861 yards, the second-highest total by a rookie in franchise history. He led the league's rookies with seven touchdown catches, had five 100-yard games, breaking Andre Rison's franchise record for a rookie (three), and became the first player in franchise history with a TD catch and a punt return for a touchdown in the same game.
He returned this season determined to cut down on his drops and help the Colts make a deeper playoff run. So far, so good.
The Colts (4-1) have sole possession of the AFC South lead for the first time since Peyton Manning's departure, and Hilton already has 20 receptions for 342 yards, well ahead of last year's numbers.
On Sunday, he scored twice in a 34-28 victory over previously unbeaten Seattle with one of the rarest daily doubles of the season. He got past Richard Sherman for a 73-yard TD pass in the first half and beat Brandon Browner with a nifty toe tap for a 29-yard catch in the second half, finishing the game with five catches for a career-high 140 yards against what is one of the league's best secondaries.
Hilton also beat Sherman for a sliding 12-yard catch on third-and-8 as the Colts drove for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, all after Browner questioned Hilton about his size.
"Seattle didn't know who they were trash-talking with," Hilton said. "Little did he (Browner) know that would get me going."
During offseason workouts in Miami, Hilton said Wayne started teaching him new ways to get open, though he's keeping the specifics a secret. And Hilton has figured out how to make the most of his blazing speed, too.
"Size is not what matters," Hilton said. "What matters at the end of the day if you've got to play the game and I can use my speed against any one."
Notes: The Colts will induct Hall of Fame running backs Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk into their ring of honor in December. ... Indy has signed fullback Robert Hughes to the practice squad after releasing him from the active roster Tuesday. ... Pagano said safety LaRon Landry (ankle) and fullback Stanley Havili (ankle) are day-to-day, though he expects defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois to return from a groin injury Monday night at San Diego. Linebacker Erik Walden was limited at Thursday's practice with an elbow injury.
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