INDIANAPOLIS — Two years ago, during an enthusiastic postgame locker room argument at Lucas Oil Stadium, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was adamant Ashton Dulin was the fastest player on the Indianapolis Colts’ roster.
Hilton’s was the only voice championing the then rookie wide receiver out Division II Malone in a sea of votes for Nyheim Hines, Parris Campbell and Rock Ya-Sin. But the veteran’s opinion carries a lot of weight.
Dulin wasn’t present for the discussion, but he heard about it second-hand. On Monday, it still brought a smile to his face.
“I thought it was funny coming from somebody like T.Y., who — you know — he’s fast himself,” Dulin said. “But we haven’t tested it, just through practice. We always compare speeds, who’s running the fastest in practice or games, anything like that. But, as far as lining up and just racing flat out, we haven’t done that yet. But we have fun with the speeds and knowing everything like that. So it’s definitely fun. It’s definitely a good compliment from T.Y.”
Dulin, now in his third season on the active roster, has carved out a niche for himself as a special teams standout, and it could be argued he’s never played better than he has during the first four games this season. Dulin has put the speed that drew raves from Hilton to good use with five special teams tackles and two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown.
It’s the kind of pace that draws postseason award attention and can get a player more opportunities to make plays. With Campbell injured, Dulin got his first career start in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams.
He’s played 19% of the team’s offensive snaps so far, a pace that would nearly double his career high, and Carson Wentz has a 95.1 quarterback rating on his three targets directed at the 24-year-old wideout.
“From Day One with Ashton, I’ve always felt like he was going to develop into a good wide receiver in this league,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “He’s doing that. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s fast. He’s smart. Then, what I probably like most about him is just — and I know this is most of the guys, but Ashton came from a smaller school, but this game is not too big for him. There’s no level of this game that is too big for Ashton. He can compete with anybody.”
Indianapolis most appreciates Dulin’s versatility. He can play all three wide receiver spots, and his physicality is a perfect fit with a team that puts a lot of emphasis on its ability to block on the edge.
The more plays Dulin makes, the more opportunities he’ll get.
His most famous play so far was a fumble recovery for a touchdown against the Rams. It’s the first time he’s found the end zone in the NFL, and it was no coincidence.
There’s an art to being in the right place at the right time, and Dulin is starting to perfect it.
“It just starts with meetings, going into the meeting room and taking the coaching, taking it out to practice and then going on to the games,” Dulin said. “And knowing that if you follow your fundamentals, technique and be in the right position, you’re gonna be in position to make the plays. That’s what it comes down to, just practicing throughout the week, knowing what the game plan is, knowing the fundamentals, the technique and translating that to the game.”
Dulin’s two fumble recoveries rank third in the league, and he’s just two tackles shy of his career high. With Hilton on injured reserve and rookie Michael Strachan still feeling his way, Dulin also figures to continue getting offensive snaps.
It’s an upward trend that has served as a bright spot during the team’s 1-3 start.
“Love the trajectory that Ashton is on,” Reich said. “He’s a very good football player, a very good teammate. We’re fortunate to have him.”
THEY SAID IT
“From my perspective, when you step foot on the field, you’re not necessarily playing and expecting a drop-off. When you’re on that field, you’re a starter and you’re in the NFL. You’re going to play like a starter because you know you have to take the opportunity and you have to make an impact. That’s the way I see it and I’m prideful about it and I definitely take full advantage of what I have to do.” — defensive end Tyquan Lewis on the responsibility of filling the shoes of 2020 starters lost to free agency
Indianapolis claimed defensive tackle Khalil Davis off waivers from Tampa Bay.
A sixth-round pick out of Nebraska in 2020, he played in two regular season games and two postseason games for the Bucs last year.