Hilton sets high standard

Heather Bremer/CNHI Sports IndianaColts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton waits for practice to begin at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

WESTFIELD -- By his own standard, T.Y. Hilton never has been better.

The veteran Indianapolis Colts wide receiver can recite the numbers as smoothly as he's been running past defensive backs at Grand Park this summer. He's been targeted 30 times in team drills during two-plus weeks of training camp, and he's caught 29 of those passes.

As for the one that got away?

"Yeah, we're not gonna talk about that," Hilton said with a laugh Monday.

The four-time Pro Bowler certainly has earned a measure of discretion. He also looks ready to play the regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers right now.

After finishing last season with high and low sprains on the same ankle, Hilton is enjoying a return to full health. He's also making the most of his knowledge of head coach Frank Reich's offensive scheme and his previous time with Jacoby Brissett, who has been taking the starting quarterback reps as Andrew Luck continues to regain strength in his left calf.

The combination has produced a series of highlight-reel plays, with Hilton punctuating one during Sunday's practice by skipping past cornerback Chris Milton on his way back to the huddle.

The 29-year-old is feeling good and having fun.

"Just a lot of hard work in the offseason," Hilton offered as the source of his success. "I was finally able to get back healthy, train how I want to train. And just having my ankle back to where I need it, it's pretty good."

Hilton went back to his south Florida roots during the offseason, running routes on the beach, doing speed training on the track and keeping his strength up in the weight room.

Even with a bevy of young and hungry wideouts battling for roster spots around him, Hilton still looks like the fastest player in the bunch.

But there's more to his game than the obvious natural gifts, and as he gets older and more experienced those elements are pushing further into the forefront.

"He's got elite football smarts," Reich said. "That's just my experience. The great players like T.Y. -- especially receivers -- they just have that football intelligence that is just off the charts. He just has these instincts to understand leverage and coverage the way few guys do.

"His body language -- again, it's hard to explain but as a quarterback, you watch him run his route and you just feel exactly where he is going to be. It makes the throw accurate. Then he's got tremendous ball skills on top of it."

It sets a great example for the rest of the roster.

Rookie Parris Campbell admitted early in camp he follows Hilton around nearly to the point of aggravation. The second-round pick marvels at the veteran's bag of tricks and takes every opportunity to pick Hilton's brain about what he's seeing and why he's making the choices he does.

Second-year phenom Deon Cain prefers to allow his accomplished teammate a bit more breathing room.

But it's clear he's still watching Hilton's every move.

"It's greatness, man," Cain said. "He was holding a streak for like almost like 28 passes for 28 (attempts). He had no incompletions. Every time the ball was coming to him, he was making plays. That's goals for me that I set as a young player is to always come out, even in practice, set goals, too.

"He's the greatest ever for our room, and a lot of people are looking up to him, especially me. Hopefully, he'll pass it down to me, and I can take up the same thing."

Hilton's in no hurry to abdicate the throne.

But he's more than willing to share what he can with the next generation.

Hilton made a conscious effort to be more vocal this offseason, understanding his leadership role has never been more important.

The best lessons, however, are delivered through actions more than words.

"He's not all in your face and stuff," Cain said. "He teaches by example, and sometimes he'll get on you, too, if it's needed. He's a great leader.

"His play speaks a lot, and he goes out there and shows us the best way how we can run routes against different coverages and teaches all the little things. I'm glad to have him as a receiver with me."