By MICHAEL MAROT
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Darrius Heyward-Bey stands contentedly at his new locker. It feels like home.
Here, he’s working closely with Reggie Wayne, the first true mentor he’s had since arriving in the NFL in 2009.
He’s lining up with another speedster, T.Y. Hilton, in three-receiver sets and two new young talents at tight end, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. He’s catching balls from the sort of franchise quarterback he never had in Oakland, and, finally, he has some stability in the offense, too.
For Heyward-Bey, it’s a whole new world.
“I actually had a chance to see my mom this past weekend. She was like, ‘I think you made the right choice coming here,’” Heyward-Bey said as he prepares to face his former team, the Raiders, in Sunday’s season opener. “I said, ‘I agree.’”
After being clocked at 4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL’s scouting combine, the Raiders made Heyward-Bey the surprise pick at No. 7 overall in 2009, tabbing the Maryland standout as their game-changing playmaker of the future.
Whether it was the revolving door of coaches, coordinators and quarterbacks, a lack of focus or something else, things never worked out in Oakland.
When Heyward-Bey hit free agency in March, his resume included 140 career receptions — three fewer than Marvin Harrison had in his record-setting 2002 season with nearly half (64) of that total coming in 2011 — 2,071 career yards, 11 career touchdowns, four 100-yard games.
He also came with a reputation for dropping passes.
Wayne never bought it.
As Heyward-Bey narrowed his final choices to Detroit and Indy, Wayne called and encouraged him to sign with Indy.
It may have been the best advice the 26-year-old receiver ever got.
Since joining the Colts in April, Wayne has spent countless hours working with his new teammate, showing him the daily routine of a five-time Pro Bowler who never seems to stop.
Wayne has done much more than serve as the teacher for his young pupil. He’s a big supporter, too.
When asked at the start of training camp about Heyward-Bey, Wayne first said he wished he had been blessed with the 6-foot-2, 216-pound body Heyward-Bey has.
And when Wayne was later asked whether it would be tough for his new teammate to shed the reputation he had in Oakland, Wayne fired back.
“Not if you catch the ball and do something with it. That reputation is coming from what, when he played with the Raiders? Well he’s not with the Raiders anymore,” Wayne said. “So hopefully this is a new bed for him to lay in. He can come here, catch the ball and then all the Raider Nation fans can say whatever they want, Colts Nation is going to have something different to say. We’re all behind him.”
Including general manager Ryan Grigson, who took a similar tack last season.
Back then, the Colts rolled the dice on receiver Donnie Avery, cornerback Darius Butler and cornerback Vontae Davis. Each was a first or second-round pick who failed to pan out in previous stops, and each started at least five games last season. All became major contributors in the Colts turnaround, and this year Davis and Butler are back while Heyward-Bey was brought in to take Avery’s spot.
All he has to do now is produce.
Early in camp, Heyward-Bey was struggling to catch the ball. But his confidence increased, his numbers improved and he wound up ahead of Hilton, a budding star, on the Colts’ depth chart as he prepares to face his old team. Heyward-Bey insists there are no hard feelings about what happened in Oakland, saying there isn’t much difference between the two locker rooms.
Raiders coach Dennis Allen has no complaints, either.
“Listen, when Darrius Heyward-Bey was here, he did everything that we asked him to do. He was a great worker,” Allen said. “I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Darrius Heyward-Bey. I think he’s a good football player. I think he’s an excellent person. I think he’s a great teammate.”
And now he’s got a second chance in the NFL, this time in a place where he seems to be getting comfortable.
“I feel good here. Everybody has welcomed me with open arms,” Heyward-Bey said. “I just keep working on my game. I’m definitely getting better.”