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INDIANAPOLIS – It's still May. The Indianapolis Colts are in helmets, practice jerseys and shorts. But a quick, early look indicates Andrew Luck-to-Hakeem Nicks could be a nice new connection.
Reporters had their first look at organized team activities Thursday, and the highlight of the day was a deep ball from Luck to Nicks, dropped perfectly over the defensive back and into Nicks' hands.
Luck-to-Nicks is a necessary addition. The Colts hope and plan for Reggie Wayne's return to form – he is not taking part in OTAs as he continues rehab from ACL surgery – but there are no guarantees. T.Y. Hilton is back, but the Darrius Heyward-Bey experiment failed a year ago. To be a first-rate offense, the Colts needed another big-time receiver.
Enter Nicks, who has spent the last five years with the New York Giants, where his resume includes a Super Bowl champion ring. He has speed, experience and a reputation for good hands.
Nicks sees Super Bowl contention ahead with the Colts and likes how his relationship with Luck is progressing.
This is nothing but great news for Indy. Just keep in mind, it's still May.
“Each day gets better and better,” Nicks said. “We've been getting our timing down and working on the things we need to work on. Overall, it's been good.”
To get the inevitable comparisons out of the way, Nicks sees Luck bringing many of the same competitive juices to the field that he saw in Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
“Eli was much farther along in his career,” Nicks said. “He was like in Year 6 when I came in and this is kind of junior year, Year 3 (for Luck). It's a different outlook, but the competitiveness for both is there – the hunger for the game, the will to finish and having that fight.”
Nicks had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2010 and 2011 and looked to be emerging as one of the NFL's receiving stars. His numbers declined the last two seasons, but he still caught 56 passes for 896 yards (16 yards per catch) last season. Somehow, he had no touchdowns.
If Nicks has no touchdowns for the Colts this season, this one-year free-agent signing will be a failure. Depending on the status of Wayne, Nicks' production could mean the difference between making the playoffs and staying home.
“It's definitely a championship atmosphere in this locker room,” Nicks said. “Guys get together a lot and they depend on each other as a team. You can sense the team bonding and the team atmosphere.”
The offense as a whole should have a jump this season with Pep Hamilton returning as offensive coordinator. Luck started his first two seasons with different offenses, starting with Bruce Arians' system as a rookie and Hamilton's last season.
“This is my first time in my career having the same offense two years in a row, so it's going to be fun,” left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “Starting off OTAs, you already know the plays, so you're just kind of refreshing, and that's nice.”
While familiarity would seem to give the returning receivers a step up, Nicks believes he can get up to speed quickly.
“It's just about getting the timing down with Andrew and getting the concepts down with the offense,” Nicks said. “Getting the timing down and being on the same communication level so when we get to training camp, we can hit the season running.”
Other than Wayne, the only prominent player missing from OTAs is safety LaRon Landry, who skipped the optional workouts last season during his first year with the Colts. A mandatory veteran minicamp takes place later in June, with full training camp in late July.
Nicks said homework is essential as he adjusts to his new home.
“A lot of the terminology is different, so that's up to me being a pro and making sure I put in the time outside of here, and when I'm here, so I get that stuff down on my end,” he said. “Then when they start calling it and doing what we do, I'll be good to go.”
Nicks is the third receiver to try to run alongside Wayne and Hilton since Luck arrived. Neither Donnie Avery nor Heyward-Bey found a lasting connection.
It's only May, so it's far from certain how Nicks will far. It's so far, so good, but so early.