You can only do so much talking before you have to start walking.
Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard has emphasized the importance of competition from the moment that he was hired in January. His belief: when players are battling to earn their opportunities, that is when you become an elite team in the National Football League. It’s a simple notion, but can only be successful if the players buy in. Early into the second phase of team OTA’s, Ballard’s influence has found its way into the locker room.
“I love competition,” said wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. “Like I said, you’re not cut out to play football if you’re not ready to compete. It is what it is.”
That is the mindset that Dorsett will need this season. Having TY Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Chester Rogers and newly-signed Kamar Aiken on the roster already, Dorsett will be fighting for playing time in 2017. Being a first-round selection is no longer an advantage for him. Going into his third season, the time to impress is limited, but, he isn’t all that worried.
“I would say every year is a big year for me, that’s how I look at it,” said Dorsett. “I’m not just trying to pick out one particular year. Even when I first came in, I knew it was going it be a big year. I’m not really trying to worry about where I got drafted and who’s in. It’s just put your head down and compete.”
Dorsett is not alone in the receivers room with something to prove. Moncrief, who enters the final year of his rookie contract, has already set the stakes high.
“This offense will be very dominant this year.”
Expectations have always been high for Moncrief, from himself and those around him. Last season, an injured shoulder forced him to miss five games, all but diminishing any hope of meeting the 1,200-yard, 8-touchdown marks that he had set for himself in the offseason. Nonetheless, Moncrief is a proven performer when healthy. In nine games last season, he scored seven touchdowns. His combination of speed and size makes him a significant threat in the red zone. Moncrief has everything on his side to be successful, and the leader of the receivers knows it.
“Donte can be very special,” said Hilton to Colts.com. “We know the injuries lingered on for him last season, but this year, he has the potential to be great.”
As the defense continues its construction, the offense will be relied on heavily to win. Moncrief has his sights on dominance and only has to look to his locker stall neighbor, Hilton, to find it.
After leading the league in receiving last season, Hilton not only established himself among the top receivers in the league but also as a leader inside of the locker room. This season, with expectations high, Hilton wants to see his leadership role continue to expand.
“I’m going to push them. In the weight room, on the field, [and help them] just continue to get better,” said Hilton. “Whether it’s texts, making sure they’re studying, making sure they are on point, on cue, to come in here and compete.”
As for personal expectations, Hilton, unlike his younger counterpart, has no set goals in mind for this upcoming season.
“I just want to get better because once you set those goals, once you reach that number, say you want 1,000 yards, once you reach that 1,000, then what? So for me, I just go in there and have fun.”
Between Dorsett, Moncrief and Hilton, competition among the wide receivers is expected to be fierce. With the addition of Aiken to the group, “fierce” might not be a strong enough word to describe it.
Last season, Aiken amassed 29 receptions for 328 yards, scoring one touchdown with the Baltimore Ravens. While his stats certainly do not jump off of the page, Aiken brings something to the table that the Colts have lacked in the past.
“They definitely wanted to add more physical receivers to the group,” said Aiken. “We have a lot of speed guys in the room. So I think that was a big addition.”
Similar to Moncrief, Aiken’s red-zone presence is his strongest asset. Last season, Indianapolis ranked fourth in the league in terms of red-zone efficiency, scoring a touchdown on 66 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line, according to TeamRankings.com. The addition of Aiken further strengthens this dimension of the game, and his signing proves that Ballard is serious about competition among his players.
“There is definitely a lot of competition,” said Aiken. “I am coming in to play. This is a talented group. I have to find my spot or find where I fit in.”
The Colts have Rogers on the roster, as well. Last season, the rookie wideout caught 19 passes for 273 yards. Also competing for roster spots on the wide receiver depth chart include Quan Bray, who was mostly used as a return specialist over the last two years, Tevaun Smith and Trey Griffey, son of MLB Hall-of-Famer, Ken Griffey Jr.
This group knows exactly what it wants to achieve on the field this season. The success of the Colts begins and ends with their offense, and to Ballard’s credit, the atmosphere that he’s created seems to have brought the best out of his receivers.
“We got a chance to be very special,” said Hilton. We’re just all competing, pushing one another, and we’re getting better.”
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Jeff Tibbins covers the Indianapolis Colts for Pro Football Spot. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jeff_tibbins.