INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck's dynamic rookie season is even more impressive when considering that most of the people he's throwing to are new to the NFL, too.
Five of the Colts quarterback's top seven pass catchers are in their first season. Receivers T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill, tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener and running back Vick Ballard are all learning the ropes along with Luck.
The youngsters have helped Luck put most meaningful rookie passing records in jeopardy. Luck has passed for 3,596 yards, fourth in the league behind Detroit's Matthew Stafford, New Orleans' Drew Brees and Dallas' Tony Romo. The Colts (8-4) rank third in the league in total offense heading into Sunday's home game against Tennessee (4-8).
Because Luck is a rookie, the young receivers have the benefit of an understanding quarterback.
"A guy runs the wrong route or breaks the wrong way, he understands because he's a young guy, too. If you're dealing with a veteran quarterback, you might get fussed out or something like that, and that might cause you to lose a little bit of confidence," Allen said. "Andrew's a young guy, just like us. He understands that we all make mistakes, him included, so he tries to make us feel as comfortable as possible when we make those mistakes."
The young receivers say veteran wideout Reggie Wayne, who ranks third in the league in receptions and yards, has helped them develop. The scary part? They're just getting started as a unit.
"We're still figuring out each other," Hilton said. "We're young, but we've got a few veterans we can lean on. We're growing and the bond is getting stronger."
Donnie Avery, the team's No. 2 receiver, is a senior statesman at age 28. He scored the winning touchdown last week in Detroit with no time remaining.
"We just play our role," Avery said. "When our number's called we just try to make plays. Everybody just complements 12 (Luck) and 87 (Wayne)."
Avery has 49 catches for 675 yards. Hilton ranks third on the team in catches (39) and yards (588). Allen is fourth on the team in both categories (36 for 435). Fleener, Luck's teammate at Stanford, has 22 catches for 248 yards.
LaVon Brazill has 10 for 178 yards and leads the team in yards per reception. He scored his first NFL touchdown last Sunday in the fourth quarter at Detroit.
Ballard has 14 catches for 133 yards, including a dramatic dive for a game-winning touchdown reception in the first meeting with Tennessee.
Hilton, a speedster from Florida International, is opening eyes with his ability to make game-changing plays. He had two touchdowns against Buffalo two weeks ago, including a 75-yard punt return for a score. He led the team with six catches last week against Detroit. He has set the team record for 100-yard games for a rookie with four.
"He's a great receiver," Avery said. "He's young in the game, but he makes plays. He knows how to get open, he knows how to catch the ball. He's going to be special."
The offense has developed surprising effectiveness for a group that is so new and lacks NFL experience. The Colts have put together five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime. Hilton said it's partially because Luck knows he can go to any of his targets.
"He's trusting us to be in the right spot at the right time," Hilton said. "He drops back three steps and he's looking, he knows we're going to be there. Chemistry is growing. We know people are going to double-team, triple-team Reggie and make other guys get them. That's when we step up and be accountable."
Allen said the coaching staff expects the rookies to perform like veterans.
"They demand us young guys to not play like rookies," he said. "It's week 14. You're not a rookie anymore. That's what they say all the time."