October 22, 2014
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton runs out of the tackle of Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Leon Hall during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
AJ Mast

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton communicate on the field in an unspoken language.

With a look and a nod, each player knows exactly where to go and what to do. It's taken 2 1/2 years for Indianapolis' new big-play tandem to develop this rapport, which is becoming an increasingly essential component for today's quarterbacks and receivers.

''I know when he's going to come to me,'' Hilton said. ''We've got that.''

The Colts aren't surprised with this turn of events. They knew what they were getting.

From the moment Hilton went to Florida International, he's been proving people wrong. Everyone knew the 5-foot-9, 178-pound receiver could run. Few expected him to stay healthy enough to become the school's career leader in receptions (229), yards (3,351) and touchdown catches (24).

The 2012 draft scouting report said Hilton had breakaway speed and could be a dynamic return specialist.

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson always believed Hilton would be equally valuable stretching the field, complementing an aging but still productive Reggie Wayne and possibly emerging as Luck's favorite target. So, after taking Luck with the top overall pick, Grigson didn't hesitate to trade two draft picks to San Francisco to move up in the third round and nab the small speedster.

It didn't take long for Hilton to make an impression.

''We got into meetings and he was always taking notes. He was already paying attention,'' Wayne said. ''He was already doing everything he was supposed to do. There was very little I had to do to look out after him. He knew what direction he wanted to go.''

Ever since, it's been a steady ascension.

In 2012, Hilton had 50 catches, 861 yards and led all NFL rookie receivers with seven TD catches. Last year, when Wayne tore his right ACL, Hilton became Indy's top receiver with 82 catches, 1,083 yards and five TD receptions. In January's remarkable playoff comeback against Kansas City, he played an even bigger role - 13 receptions and 224 yards including the decisive 64-yard score.

But Hilton and Luck still wanted more. Hilton committed himself to perfecting comeback routes during the offseason. Luck focused on becoming more accurate and a better situational player. Together, they refined those communication skills that have come in so handy.

The results have been impressive. As Luck leads the league in yards passing and is tied for the lead in TD passes, Hilton is third in the NFL in yards receiving (711).

Hilton is on pace to finish with more than 100 receptions and the third-highest single-season yardage total in franchise history. And if he tops the 100-yard mark for the third straight game, he also will break Bill Brooks' franchise record for yards receiving (2,720) in his first three seasons - with eight games to play.

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown will be reunited with his youth-league teammate Sunday and it'll be all business on the field.

''It's always iron on iron, friend to friend bettering each other,'' Steelers receiver Antonio Brown said of his longtime friendship with Hilton. ''He's a big-play guy. He's always capable of flipping the chains.''

The Colts (5-2) are chasing their sixth straight win and trying to put more distance between themselves and second-place Houston in the AFC South. The Steelers (4-3), meanwhile, are trying to fight their way back to the top of the AFC North.

Plus, Hilton could be back at center stage if Wayne, who missed practice Wednesday, can't play because of a left elbow injury.

Luck isn't worried if Wayne isn't in the lineup.

''I think if you focus too much on Reg, you focus too much on the tight ends, Hakeem (Nicks), T.Y.'s going to bite you,'' Luck said. ''If you focus on T.Y., then the other guys are going to get you. That's the beauty of the offense, and T.Y.'s showing you he's a big playmaker.''

He might be an even better student of the game.

''We've got that chemistry where he gives me a nod and I give him a nod,'' Hilton said. ''And we just both know.''

NOTES: Running back Trent Richardson (hamstring), tight end Jack Doyle (knee) and right tackle Gosder Cherilus (rest) did not practice Wednesday. Cornerback Darius Butler (ankle) was limited in practice. ... Defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle) was a full participant. Jones hasn't played since Week 2. ... The Colts have added running back Jeff Demps and tight end Konrad Reuland to the practice squad and released quarterback Dominique Davis and receiver Chandler Jones.

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