INDIANAPOLIS –On Sunday when T.Y. Hilton became the first Colts player ever to score a touchdown by a punt return and a reception in the same game, he was lauded by Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians.
When Hilton won the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honor today, he may have come in for some praise, but time on the practice field was soon to come.
That is the laboratory where Arians learned from Paul (Bear) Bryant to coach players hard and hug them later. Hilton was not alive when Bryant was, but he has felt the brunt of those teachings.
"Oh, yeah, he's very hard on us," said Hilton. "He just wants us to understand the game, to learn it, make sure that we're studying and respecting the game. If you don't know what you're doing, he's going to yell at you. He's going to cuss you out. It's for your good."
Hilton is one of a number of Colts rookies to feel the approach. It will continue because Arians believes Thanksgiving to Christmas is prime time to excel. It happened in Pittsburgh in 2010 and sparked a Super Bowl run.
"I've seen it before. Thanksgiving-to-Christmas is when you want your young wide receivers to step in and have a major role," said Arians. "LaVon (Brazill) has started to increase his productivity. T.Y. has had more opportunities and now is becoming a major factor in our offense.
"In Pittsburgh, we'd never have gotten to the Super Bowl (in 2010) without Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown developing after Thanksgiving and making huge plays in the playoffs. Those two rookies were players between Thanksgiving and the playoffs."
Hilton has three 100-plus games, tying the club rookie record. He has 33 receptions, a 14.8 average and a team-leading five touchdown receptions, while his 12.3 punt return average is sixth in the NFL.
Brazill and Nathan Palmer are the club's other two rookie receivers, and they join veterans Donnie Avery and Reggie Wayne to form a speedy, talented corps. Arians thinks the trio has morphed out of being rookies.
"I think these guys are now in that position. The rookie year is gone," said Arians. "They're in their sophomore, junior seasons now. Their roles have expanded each week.
"I think we have three dynamic guys, plus our young tight ends. They're all very good football players, but they're all bright. I think in the evaluation process that's always huge for us, 'How much football IQ do they have with their raw talent.' "
Arians feels the three players should "definitely" win any one-on-one matchup that comes their way when Wayne or Avery draws double coverage.
There is an urgency, December is here this week and five games remain for a 7-4 team.
"This is the time. I think they had a feel for it (on Sunday)," said Arians. "The stadium had a little bit more energy, a little more electricity (last) week. Each week is going to get bigger, especially on the road, especially the places we have to go – Detroit, Kansas City, Houston.
They are really tough places to go play. Each and every team, no one gives up in this league. Every game is tough. There are no easy games in the National Football League."