INDIANAPOLIS — Expectations were high for Indianapolis Colts rookie Nyheim Hines when he was selected in the fourth round of this year's NFL Draft.
The playmaker with the 4.38 speed was being compared to the likes of Darren Sproles, Tyreek Hill and Alvin Kamara.
When the Colts began offseason OTAs and minicamps and transitioned into training camp, it was obvious that Hines did have the talent that everybody saw coming out of NC State.
But then, the preseason happened.
In the first couple of preseason games, Hines struggled with ball security, especially while fielding punts.
However, when the Colts opened the regular season last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, the gloves came off and the offense — featuring a heavy dose of Hines — was unleashed.
Rather than taking traditional handoffs and running routine routes for screens, Hines lined up in the backfield, out wide as a receiver, and he went in motion before the snap. It was what we had become accustomed to seeing from Hines in practice and the environment in which he looked the most dangerous.
"I definitely felt a lot better. Honestly, this was my first game with a little bit of confidence," Hines told the media following last Sunday's game. "I had a great week of practice and I finally made some plays."
Hines was able to pick up 52 yards on 12 touches Sunday, earning five first downs and, really, putting his preseason performances in the rear-view mirror.
"In preseason, I kinda knew what would happen; we don't wanna show our hand and show everything. And we still haven't shown everything that we can do and what we're capable of as an offense," Hines said. "Like I said, I just wanna make some plays — I needed a little bit of confidence. (I) struggled in preseason a little bit, and it's behind me and hopefully, with a new number change and all that, hopefully, it's a little bit of good luck for me."
Preseason games are notoriously vanilla so that coaches can evaluate players in a more simplified environment, and so they also don't tip too much schematically for future opponents. Compared to practice, we were very much seeing "Diet Nyheim Hines," so it makes sense for him to flourish now that the offensive is more progressive.
Hines' head coach, Frank Reich, could also see him beginning to change.
"He looked really comfortable," Reich said. "He looked confident, comfortable, and I know it sounds kind of crazy, but you can just feel it. You could feel it, and I think that new number change for him when he went to No. 21 — I don't know, players are weird, man (laughing). Sometimes, a number change can just kind of give you a new mojo."
Hines was originally assigned No. 42 when he arrived in Indianapolis for rookie minicamp — a number he admitted he wasn't fond of, but he wore partially because he didn't know if he was even going to be used much as a running back anyway.
However, when the preseason ended and rosters were cut down from 90 to 53 players, Hines took on a new number — No. 21. Since then, he and those around him have noticed a different player.
He hadn't wore the number since his days in high school, starting on the varsity team as a freshman. The number is one that gives Hines thoughts of Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and his teardrop touchdown celebration.
Now rejuvenated, Hines plans to focus on using his strengths and taking things one step at a time to continue putting his playmaking ability on display.