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Role greatly enhanced for Colts receiver Hilton

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T.Y. Hilton understands much has changed with Reggie Wayne no longer part of the Colts’ offense.

Andrew Luck, for one, has to find new options. And a running game that hasn’t gone far will be leaned on more heavily to find traction.

But perhaps the biggest change of all is Hilton’s role, in that it’s greatly enhanced.

No longer an ancillary downfield threat, Hilton is now the most prominent downfield threat. And by virtue of his experience, the second-year wide receiver is now — by default — one of the Colts’ leaders.

Yes, much has changed — especially for Hilton — since Wayne went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Yet Hilton, the undisputed focal point of opposing secondaries moving forward, has no plans to change his approach. Why should he?

Coming off a three-touchdown performance in last Sunday night’s improbable win at Houston, he is more than a little confident what he’s already doing is working pretty well.

“Don’t change nothing. Just continue doing what I’ve been doing,” said Hilton, who had seven catches for 121 yards — and three TDs — in the dramatic win at Houston. “It got me this far, so just continue doing what I do.”

A third-round draft pick in 2012, the former Florida International star has been a prominent figure in the Colts’ resurgence since his arrival. Perfectly complementing Wayne last year, he caught 50 passes for 861 yards and seven touchdowns and averaged a team-high 17.2 yards per reception.

Despite a slow start in 2013, Hilton is on pace to shatter those numbers this season.

Heading into Sunday’s game against visiting St. Louis, he has 34 catches for 533 yards and five touchdowns. He’s averaging 15.7 yards per catch and is, without question, the most dangerous playmaker among Colts’ receivers.

In theory, free-agent acquisition Darrius Heyward-Bey — a former Oakland first-round pick — would either assume, or at the very least challenge for, the big-play mantle. But he has not.

Not even close.

In six games, the Raiders’ cast-off has 19 catches for 201 yards and one touchdown. He averages 10.6 yards per reception (when he hangs onto the ball) and has largely been an afterthought in the offense.

Hilton, by contrast, is building off of last year’s sturdy foundation.

Confident in his abilities and determined to improve each week, Hilton is not only a reliable target but an explosive one. And in light of circumstances, Luck is likely to tap the resource as often as possible — just like he did during the second half of the Houston game, when the Colts climbed out of a deep hole for a 27-24 win.

“Andrew did a great job getting me the ball,” Hilton said. “(Offensive coordinator) Pep (Hamilton) did a great job calling the plays. Once we get out there, we kind of just have fun, settle into the game and just do what we do.”

Luck certainly has fun hooking up with the dynamic player he first noticed on TV while both were still in college.

“I remember watching him play a little college football. They had a game against Louisville on a Thursday night,” Luck said. “It seemed every time he touched the ball, he took it to the house. I was (asking), ‘Who is this little guy? A jitterbug out there.’

“I think his explosiveness, his dynamic ability is pretty evident from the start when you’re out there on the practice field with him. He’s special.”

Perhaps, but he doesn’t see himself that way — even though defenses will likely defend him that way.

But marked man or not, he has no plans to change what has worked so far.

“I’m going to continue to do what I do and go out there and have fun,” Hilton said. “When the ball is thrown my way, go out there and make a play.”

No need to change that.

Rick Morwick is the sports editor of the Daily Journal. Send comments to rmorwick@dailyjournal.net.

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