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INDIANAPOLIS – When Nick Sirianni was coaching receivers for the Chiefs, and then the Chargers, he always saw T.Y. Hilton’s name pop up on the stat sheet.
Sirianni wondered how the 5-9 Hilton routinely was among the league’s top wideouts.
When Sirianni analyzed film of Hilton the young position coach quickly saw why the 2012 third-round pick was putting up league-best numbers on a near annual basis.
Now, he’s seen another element of Hilton’s game up-close.
“Obviously you come away from watching all his catches with a, ‘Wow, this guy is good,’ from afar,” Sirianni says. “What really is great, and I think that separates players, is T.Y. is tough, and he is hungry to learn and he’s obsessed with getting better. And that’s a pretty common trait amongst the good players in this league. I guess I assumed he had it because he’s always at the top of the stat sheet, but being around him, he does have it. He has that toughness.
“He continues to want to excel and get better. He’s obsessed with getting better, obsessed with finishing, obsessed with his craft.”
That obsession has led to Hilton altering his diet in a pretty significant manner heading into season No. 7.
A ‘leaner’ Hilton was busy immersing himself in a new offense this spring.
Sirianni and Frank Reich have installed a system that is expected to see quicker throws, allowing the playmakers to try and do damage in space, following high-percentage tosses.
But as was evidenced from watching practices in the spring, that deep ball, which Hilton has excelled with, isn’t going to be extinct.
“As you emphasize the quicker throws, the deeper ones come,” Sirianni says. “If you look at Frank (Reich) and I’s past together, our teams have been high in completion percentage, but they’ve also been high in plus-20 yard gains, plus-16 yard gains. So those plays still come.”
The old adage of ‘speed kills’ certainly applies to how Sirianni sees the deep ball and Hilton.
No one needs to remind Sirianni of what that can do to a defense.
“My brothers and I used to have a football camp in our hometown (Jamestown, N.Y.) and we’d have kids in there that weren’t always the fastest,” Sirianni says. “Every time, I was like, ‘Gosh, these guys aren’t going to really do a lot here at this football camp and extend their careers.’ But the guys that are fast, you can’t teach that. The guys that are fast pose this threatening position to the defensive back where, yeah, they can get behind them. So there’s that fear that they can get behind them and they do get behind them when the coverage lends itself. But then every other play, that defensive back is thinking, ‘Shoot, he can get behind me.’ So it softens him up – plus-16 yard gains in my mind are chunk plays. So if softens them up for those plus-16 yards. It really is no secret, it’s speed.”
While Hilton obviously has rare speed, there’s another element to his game that puts him along the elite.
“His speed is phenomenal,” Sirianni says of Hilton. “I’m not saying this with every fast guy, but some fast guys are fast and they ran track and they’re really fast, but combined with that speed and the toughness, that’s what makes them last. ‘Hey, I’m going to be fast for 16 weeks because I’m tough and I’m going to fight through any little nagging injury that I have.’ That’s where I see that, ‘Oh okay, that makes sense why T.Y. did that on this play.’
“That makes sense of how they got him the ball there and how he’s excelled in this league so much.”