ANDERSON — Darrius Heyward-Bey's first need was patience.
He was open Saturday night inside the Cleveland Browns' 5-yard line, but there was enough of a crowd in the vicinity to require a little extra focus. Any one of those fingers could jump out at a moment's notice and alter the flight the ball.
If he committed too early, that might cause the redirected pigskin to bounce off his own hands. And then the questions would begin again.
But the pass made it to him cleanly. He leapt and began to cradle it to his chest. At about the same time, Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden crashed into Heyward-Bey from behind and appeared to at least briefly get a hand on the ball.
The wide receiver absorbed the blow, fought off Haden's last-ditch effort and came down with the reception at the 3-yard line.
It was just one soon-forgotten play during the second quarter of a game that didn't count. But it said a lot about the strides the fifth-year receiver has made in his first five months with the Indianapolis Colts.
He signed as a free agent in April, bringing along a reputation for dropped passes based primarily on his rookie season with the Oakland Raiders. The late Al Davis reached to draft Heyward-Bey with the seventh overall pick in 2009 — infatuated by his size (6-foot-2) and speed (4.23 seconds in the 40-yard dash) — and the Maryland product spent the next four years fighting to live up to the hype.
He caught 140 passes for 2,071 yards and 11 touchdowns in Oakland but never seemed to satisfy those lofty expectations. His Raiders career was filled with a rotating cast of quarterbacks, head coaches and offensive systems. And a lot of losses.
Oakland finished 25-39 during Heyward-Bey's tenure, and he was released in March as part of the franchise's ongoing search for salary cap relief. He said he followed his heart to Indianapolis, where he believes a rising young quarterback and history of success can help get his career back on track.