The NFL is starting to slow down for Phillip Dorsett, although when considering the Indianapolis Colts wide receiver’s exceptional speed and intense ambition, he’s still understandably anxious to become a game-changing playmaker.
Like any other rookie drafted in the first round, Dorsett arrived last season with the confidence that he would make a big splash. That enthusiasm was stifled when he sustained a fractured ankle in the seventh game. He missed five games and finished with just 18 catches for 225 yards and one touchdown.
He waited a long offseason for last Sunday, his next opportunity to show something. His second season began quietly with just a 5-yard reception in the first half.
Then came his moment. The Colts were trailing Detroit, facing a second-and-20 situation at their 18 and needed a big play. Dorsett took off on a deep post pattern and got behind Lions cornerback Darius Slay. Quarterback Andrew Luck unloaded an underthrown pass, but Dorsett had enough space on the defender to slow down and make the catch for a 51-yard gain. The reception eventually led to a Colts touchdown.
Trailing 34-28 in the final minutes, Dorsett got deep again for a 33-yard reception that set up a go-ahead touchdown.
The Colts lost 39-35 at Lucas Oil Stadium, but Dorsett finished with a team- and career-high 94 receiving yards. He was targeted six times and caught four for a 23.5-yard average. Another deep ball had Dorsett and head coach Chuck Pagano screaming for a pass-interference penalty; replay showed contact just before the ball arrived.
In an offense with Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and emerging pass catcher Donte Moncrief, Dorsett provided strong evidence he can be counted upon, too.
“You’ve got to be patient,” said Dorsett, 23. “It’s definitely slowed down a lot from my rookie year, basically knowing the terminology and everything. It’s still coming. You’ve got to be patient. A lot of people aren’t. I’m looking forward to going out there and playing as hard as I can.”
Hilton, another deep threat, said he didn’t get truly comfortable on a pro field until his third season in 2014. He’s been to back-to-back Pro Bowls since.
“It really slowed down for me,” Hilton said. “The main thing was knowing where everybody was supposed to be at and just playing to my speed. I’m very fast. I always adjust to it, but you don’t really adjust to it until year three. It’s really slowed down for me now.
“It’s still a little fast for him, but he’s showing great strides.”
The Colts have been outspoken about their high expectations for Dorsett.
“He needs to be a big-time playmaker and he has that kind of ability,” offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said during offseason training activities. “He has the speed. He’s refined and getting better as a route runner, which is something coming into the league that all receivers need to do. He also needs to stay healthy. That was one of the big things, whether it was last season or even in the spring time. He had some times where he wasn’t healthy.”
Hilton and Moncrief set an understated tone as Dorsett mentors. Hilton reiterates a simple piece of advice.
“The main thing is be patient,” Hilton said. “I know he’s a first-rounder, I know he wants to get out there and show what he’s capable of. His time is going to come. My main thing preaching to him is just when you’re time comes, make sure you’re ready. That’s it, man. When you rush things, things go bad. Just be patient and let your body do what it’s supposed to do.”
Hilton’s example is a combination of speed and elusiveness. Moncrief has more size, 6-foot-2 and 222 pounds to Hilton’s 5-9 and 180. Dorsett, at 5-10 and 185, resembles Hilton in size and speed (4.3 40-yard dash) as well as Sunshine State origin; Hilton was born in Miami and played his college ball at Florida International while Dorsett was born in Fort Lauderdale and played his college ball at Miami.
Luck targeted Hilton 12 times against the Lions and completed half of those passes for 79 yards. Moncrief was targeted on seven passes and caught six for 64 yards and one touchdown. Both had a long reception of 32 yards.
“T.Y., he’s a real crafty guy, really crafty,” Dorsett said. “That’s why they call him ‘The Ghost.’ He gets lost. He knows how to get open. You can tell. He has a feel for the game, he definitely does. It’s been a blessing for me to watch him every day and learn from him. Coming into the draft, everyone was asking who I emulated my game after, I was like, ’T.Y. Hilton.’ And I get to play with him. I’ve learned a lot.
“Donte, bigger body, and he knows how to use his body. Even being as fast as he is and as big as he is, he knows how to use his body. Catching the ball at the highest point, he’s great at.”
That neither Hilton or Moncrief are big talkers also helps Dorsett stay low-key and focused.
“That’s how all of us are,” Dorsett said. “We’re humble enough to know we’re never going to settle. You always can get better, always can get better. There’s definitely a chance you can get worse, that’s why we work as hard as we do.”
The education is ongoing. It’s only one game, but Dorsett is off to a promising start to 2016. He doesn’t need to be reminded of what others expect. He’s aware it doesn’t take long for critics to suggest “bust” in this league.
“Everyone gets doubted,” he said. “You’ve got to continue to be you. Go out there and work hard, prepare and everything will come to you.”