The NFL cycle of setting a professional standard for young players has come full circle for Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
When he entered the league as a third-round draft pick in 2012, Hilton had the opportunity to learn from one of the best, six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver and XLI champion Reggie Wayne.
Now 30 and entering his ninth season, Hilton shares lessons learned with young receivers, including rookies Michael Pittman Jr. and Dezmon Patmon. The Colts drafted Pittman in the second round and Patmon in the sixth round of April’s NFL draft.
Both are big-bodied pass catchers, much like Wayne was back in the day. Pittman, at 6-4 and 223 pounds, has been compared to Wayne.
So what does Hilton tell his understudy?
“The main thing Reggie always told me was make sure you know your playbook in and out, and whenever your number is called just make sure you’re ready because you never know when your number’s going to be called, you never know when somebody’s going to go down, whenever somebody’s going to get tired,” Hilton said in a recent Zoom video conference call.
“So you’ve got to get in and you can’t miss a beat, because if you miss a beat then something bad is going to happen. So you just want to make sure when that time comes and you’re in the game, you make sure you’re ready and you know all your plays.”
Hilton quickly got that message. He started only once as a rookie, but played in 15 games and had 50 receptions for 861 yards and seven TDs. The speedy playmaker quickly established himself as one of the NFL’s best deep threats, and has amassed 552 receptions for 8,598 yards and 45 TDs in his career.
Hilton looks forward to working with Pittman, who caught 101 passes for 1,275 yards and 11 TDs in his senior year at USC.
“I haven’t really watched him, but I’ve seen some of his highlights after we drafted him,” Hilton said. “I see he’s a big body, he goes up and gets the ball real well. It looks like he’s light on his feet. I just can’t wait to actually sit down with him, get to know him and see how he does for us.”
Pittman arrived in Indianapolis last week and has started the process of being that sponge for knowledge with his mentor.
“Yeah, T.Y. is around and I’ve actually learned a lot from him,” Pittman said. “I’m just looking forward to getting with him and learning more from him.”
As the son of an NFL running back of the same name, Pittman enters the NFL with polish. Eager to get to work despite NFL facilities being closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Pittman contacted Patmon as well as quarterback Jacob Eason, a Colts fourth-round pick, and participated in throwing sessions with them in California. Pittman has also worked out with retired wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who played 11 NFL seasons through 2011.
“He says that, ‘Nothing else matters except release and top of the route,’” Pittman said of Houshmandzadeh. “So (I’m) just really focusing on that and really just keying into those skills – pretty much just polishing them up and being the best that I can be in that facet.”
Pittman was flattered when he heard Colts owner Jim Irsay compare the rookie to Wayne, who in 14 seasons had 1,070 receptions for 14,345 yards and 82 TDs. Wayne was inducted into the Colts Ring of Honor in 2018.
“When Mr. Irsay said that, that was probably one of the biggest compliments that I have ever got from a coach or owner,” Pittman said.
As for whom he models his game after, the rookie says it’s all about trying to be the best he can be. That said, as should be expected of any young pro, he studies game film of the NFL’s best wide receivers.
“I have to be the best Michael Pittman, but guys that I like to watch film on and see what works for them: Mike Evans, (Michael) Thomas, Julio (Jones), Brandon Marshall. Larry Fitzgerald does really good stuff. I say those are my guys that I like to watch that I think that I have similar traits to. So those are my guys.”
(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 email@example.com.)