“That guy's a freak,” Pagano said Tuesday after practice at Anderson University. “I'd hate to be the guy on the opposite side of the ball. He keeps growing and growing and growing. This game is so easy for him.”
Hilton might quibble with the idea that the game comes easily. He attributes his growth as a player to hard work and study. It helps that he makes certain to pattern his game, both in approach and style, after Wayne. The two developed a teacher-student relationship last season and it blossomed in full by midseason.
“Everybody's trying to get to where he's at,” Hilton said. “Floyd (Mayweather) is a great boxer and everybody wants to get where Floyd's at. Reggie Wayne's a great receiver, a Hall of Famer. Everybody wants to get to where he's at.”
Wayne's secret, Hilton said, is no secret at all: “Hard work and dedication. He got there by hard work and dedication.”
Hilton spent some time in the offseason working individually with quarterback Andrew Luck in Miami, work that helped establish even better timing and rapport. Quarterback and receiver came to the Colts in the same draft class, enabling them to learn the pro game together to some degree.
Luck and Hilton ended up on the same page more and more as their rookie season progressed.
Over the last half of the 2012 season, as teams became more intentional on containing Wayne, Hilton began to crank up the numbers. Three of Hilton's five 100-yard receiving games came in the final seven games of the regular season.
By season's end, Wayne and Hilton were 1-2 on the Colts' receiving corps hierarchy, and that might not change even with the addition of free agent signee Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Hilton caught 50 passes for 861 yards and seven touchdowns. He also returned a punt for a touchdown.
“(Hilton) is so smart, he puts in so much time in the weight room and the practice field working his craft, (and) in the classroom,” Pagano said. “He understands what's going on, where to line up. He's fast, but when you're not thinking out there and you can play as fast as he can play, he's going to make plays. I'm impressed with his start and where he's going.”
Hilton said he hasn't set any specific numbers goals this year, although it seems reasonable for him to shoot for 75 catches and 1,000 yards receiving. He says he'd like to return two or three punt returns for scores.
“I want to limit my drops to single digits and go out and have fun,” Hilton said.
Hilton showed his commitment during the offseason by working directly with Luck.
“We know it's going to be harder, guys are going to expect that,” Hilton said. “We did a great job in Miami getting our timing down. He knows where I'm going to be and I know what he's thinking.”
Hilton plans to punish himself with extra running for every dropped pass during training camp, but so far he hasn't had any.
“I didn't really know what to expect last year,” Hilton said. “This year, I know what to expect, the game is really slowing down for me and I'm seeing things much clearer.”
Pagano says Hilton is playing at a faster pace, without as much thinking, and Hilton says the game is slowing down for him. Sounds like the basis for a breakout season.