Week 7 in the NFL was full of injuries and one of the more devastating ones was the loss of Indianapolis Colts veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Known for his durability, Wayne is done for the season with a torn ACL. While every injury hurts a team, even Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, who’s had a long relationship with the player since his college days, admitted of the loss that “this one stings.”
For teams that suffer a loss of this magnitude they all embrace the “next man up” mantra. The Colts aren’t ready to anoint a new top receiver as Pagano reiterated this week via ESPN.com, “Again, it will be next man up, and they’re going to have to raise their level of play. Again, you can’t replace [Wayne], but somebody will rise up. Just like when we lose anybody else.”
But in this case, it may be wide receiver Ty Hilton. Can his play help the team keep its playoffs hopes alive?
In his sophomore season, Hilton first showed his talent in his rookie season with three 100-yard games in the season’s final seven. He has great break-away speed and has the ability to make big plays. He needs some more experience as he’s still not a key part of the Colts’ offense but now this could change. Hilton will need to step up and build that trust with his quarterback, Andrew Luck.
To-date, the speedy player has 27 receptions for 412 yards and two touchdowns. He is averaging a team-high 15.3 yards per catch with a 73-yarder–a career long–against Seattle in Week 5. He’s been the No. 2 receiver next to Wayne.
But don’t look for Luck to put all his eggs in one basket. He’ll use other weapons than Hilton and this includes tight end Coby Fleener. A teammate from their Stanford days, the two have longtime chemistry. For this season, Fleener has 22 receptions, 235 yards and three touchdowns. He is a talented player but can be inconsistent.
This should change as he’ll likely move up on the depth chart.
And then there’s wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. He’s been in the league since 2009 when he was drafted in the first round by the Oakland Raiders. He’s been considered somewhat of a bust and came to the Colts this offseason. He’s no Wayne, but he’ll move up on the depth chart in his absence.
Heyward-Bey has been challenged this season with catching the ball and after a disappointing Week 6 game against the San Diego Chargers (1 reception for 11 yards), he improved last week against the Denver Broncos with four receptions for 44 yards and one touchdown. He also had a 30-yard run from a reverse but to-date, he only has 190 yards receiving.
Then there’s one more option for this Colts team to keep their playoff hopes alive. There’s next week’s trade deadline which begs the question, will the Colts take some action? They have already shown they’ll reach out for help when they need it (see running back Trent Richardson). But will they do it again?
Keep your eye on Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay’s Twitter feed.