By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Darrius Heyward-Bey said he’s trusted his heart in tough spots before.
So when it was time to make the biggest decision of his NFL career thus far, the former Oakland Raiders wide receiver decided to go with his heart again.
It led the 26-year-old free agent away from the Detroit Lions and into the arms of the Indianapolis Colts, who are coming off an 11-5 season and an AFC Wild Card playoff appearance.
In four seasons with the Raiders, Heyward-Bey never finished better than 8-8.
“At the end, I just had to follow my heart,” he said during a conference call with local media Tuesday, “and I just felt comfortable there.”
Part of that comfort level was induced by the presence of second-year quarterback Andrew Luck. The former Stanford star started all 16 games for the Colts and threw for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns last season, finishing as runner-up for NFL Rookie of the Year honors to Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Luck’s consistency under center is appealing to Heyward-Bey who played for three head coaches, four offensive coordinators and seven quarterbacks in Oakland.
“It’s a confidence thing,” Heyward-Bey said. “You know that this guy is going to be your quarterback. There’s no question about that. In Oakland, there were times when we weren’t sure going into a week and we had to adjust on the fly. Knowing that Andrew is going to be back there feels good.”
Heyward-Bey was the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft coming out of Maryland. He went that high in part because late Raiders owner Al Davis was enamored with the 4.3-second 40-yard dash the receiver ran at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Despite combining his speed with a 6-foot-2 frame, Heyward-Bey never really lived up to expectations in Oakland. He caught 64 passes for 975 yards and four touchdowns in 2011 but had just 140 receptions for 2,071 yards and 11 scores overall.
Heyward-Bey said he picks out one area of his game to improve each offseason and strives to become a complete wide receiver.
“Last year it was run after catch, and actually some of my touchdowns were run after catch,” he said. “So this year I just want to concentrate more on high playing the ball up in the air and getting it into the end zone without running on a run after catch. I’ll still continue to work on that, but high playing the ball is something that I definitely want to improve on.”
There have been some questions about what kind of fit the speedy vertical threat will be for new Indianapolis offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s West Coast-based scheme. No less an authority than former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana — who won four Super Bowls and played under the offense’s originator, Bill Walsh — weighed in on his verified Twitter account.
“Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey is going to be a big weapon for Luck and the Colts,” Montana wrote.
Heyward-Bey agreed to a one-year deal worth up to $3 million with a $1.5 million guarantee. He could have chosen instead to join the Lions’ high-powered offense with quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and offseason addition running back Reggie Bush.
But he said he wants to be part of something special in Indianapolis.
“Well, if you look at the roster, you have Andrew Luck, in my opinion the best young quarterback out there,” Heyward-Bey said. “You’ve got a veteran in Reggie Wayne. You have a former teammate of mine in Samson (Satele) at the center. They had some young guys make some plays out there so just being a part of something like that, I think it can be great.”