The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — The football seemed to hang in the air for an eternity.
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey seemingly had beaten cornerback Greg Toler on the route, but now the defender was gaining ground quickly.
As the nose of the ball turned toward the ground and its flight began to descend, Toler erased his deficit all together. At the last moment, he reached his hand between Heyward-Bey's arms and knocked the pass away.
It was a perfect example of the competition that raged throughout Sunday afternoon's Indianapolis Colts training camp practice at Anderson University. And it was quarterback Andrew Luck's best chance at connecting on a true deep pass all day.
But, on this play, it wasn't meant to be.
Heyward-Bey's mission over the course of the next three weeks is to make sure Luck believes he will come down with that pass more often than not.
"You got to make plays out there," the receiver commonly known by his intials as DHB said after the morning walkthrough. "When he throws it up there, you got to come down with the ball. That's what a quarterback looks for, and that's what I'm going to do."
Veteran Donnie Avery revived his career last season lining up opposite of Reggie Wayne and catching passes from Luck. In his fourth NFL season, he set career highs in receptions (60) and yards (781) and had the best per-catch average (13 yards) of any year in which he had more than three catches.
Heyward-Bey, who was drafted seventh overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2009, is hoping for similar results this season.
DHB played with a revolving cast of quarterbacks, head coaches and offensive coordinators during four mostly frustrating seasons in Oakland. He seemed to have a breakout campaign with 64 catches for 975 yards and four scores in 2011, but he regressed last season with 41 receptions and 606 yards.
He believes the relative stability in Indianapolis will help. But he's not going to forget entirely about his past.
"I've been in, I think this will be my fifth offense," Heyward-Bey said. "So you just go through it. The way I learn stuff, I just add things from what I learned in the past and make it my own."
The wide receiver proved his commitment to this season by making time to work out with Luck and teammate Griff Whalen in California during the brief offseason.
The extra work added another layer of timing and familiarity with his quarterback. And it helped him to learn a few things about his new teammate as well.
"Other than him being goofy?," Heyward-Bey said when asked about his revelations. "No, he's just like any other quarterback. He demands attention in the huddle. He's very confident in what he does. He expects everybody to be on the same page."
DHB appears willing to sacrifice personal gain if it means he finally will be able to experience the playoffs.
Oakland built its reputation during the 1970s with a "Commitment to Excellence," but little evidence of those days remains with the franchise. The team never finished with a record better than 8-8 during Heyward-Bey's four seasons, and he's looking for that to change in Indianapolis.
When he signed with the Colts in the spring, he said his heart told him he was making the right decision. So far, he's seen no evidence to doubt that belief.
"Just the way they do their business around here," Heyward-Bey said. "It's all about making sure everybody's comfortable, making sure all the players are taken care of, and winning. To go from 2-14 to 11 wins in one season, that's amazing. And that starts from the bottom. It starts from the owner all the way down to the equipment guys."