INDIANAPOLIS — The most impressive offensive play in the Indianapolis Colts’ Saturday scrimmage at Lucas Oil Stadium showed how far quarterback Philip Rivers and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton have come in a short time.
Rivers looked down the far right sideline and lofted a deep ball toward Hilton, who had a step on reserve cornerback Tremon Smith and caught the pass in stride for a 47-yard touchdown.
That’s one of the reasons the Colts paid $25 million to bring in the 38-year-old Rivers for 2020. The 17th-year pro isn’t shy about taking shots, and his best deep pass of this workout provided an encouraging result.
It’s also a positive sign for Hilton, 30, who is entering a contract year after missing six games due to a calf injury and putting up the lowest numbers of his eight-year career in 2019. This was the Hilton that Colts fans are used to seeing, a four-time Pro Bowl star who is one of the NFL’s speediest deep threats.
Rivers has spoken before about his respect for the Colts’ No. 1 wide receiver. After working with him, that admiration has grown.
“The first thing I would say is what a great competitor he is,” Rivers said of Rivers in a Zoom video call after practice. “That stood out to me very early on, getting to know him. I think all great players, they are great competitors. He certainly has that trait. Also, the best receivers I have been around, they have a great feel for the game, and T.Y. has that, whether it be throttling on a route or being ready for a back shoulder or a little bit of that unspoken communication that you have that we can kind of get on the same page. We’ve been able to have some of those type moments throughout training camp.
“That will only continue to grow. It was nice to push it down the field to him on the one today and kind of get into a little bit of a rhythm. Certainly as a passer, it’s a little bit like a jump shooter. As you get rolling – and we weren’t great today by any means, but there were certain drives where we got into a little bit of a rhythm. I kind of mentioned to him, ‘If we keep going like this, we’re going to be tough to stop.’”
Rivers acknowledged that he hasn’t thrown a lot of deep balls toward Hilton during training camp, but he’s confident that it’s there.
“Sometimes pushing it down the field doesn’t always mean a go-ball like the one I keep mentioning today, and I imagine you guys saw,” Rivers said. “Sometimes it’s a deep-over (route) that’s 20 yards that – those are the chunks. It’s a big-in route for 20 (yards). Those have certainly been sprinkled in throughout training camp. Some of it is what the defense gives you. Our defense does a heck of a job matching up. Then when they’re in their zone coverage, they’re not allowing some of those easy – I call them intermediate throws. They make them tough on you and kind of make you throw it underneath and then they come and tackle. That’s pretty standard around the league in that regard.
“It’s going to be game-by-game, week-by-week. Our running game is certainly super important when it comes to our ability to get chunk plays in the passing game. You can’t really stop both usually. I don’t mean that about us, just in general. If you have a really good running game, it’s hard to play the deep ball and stop the run from a defensive standpoint. If you’re not seeing many balls get thrown over their head, then that means we’ll probably be handing it off quite a bit. If we’re running the stew out of it, that will open up some opportunities for us to push it down the field.”
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)