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T.Y. Hilton making big impact for Colts

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T.Y. Hilton making big impact for Colts

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) As the NFL game slows down for him, T.Y. Hilton is playing faster. As opponents pay more attention to Reggie Wayne, he is emerging as a key contributor. And as the smallest player on the Colts' roster, Hilton is making a huge impact.

The 5-foot-9, 183-pound rookie couldn't dream of a better way to start a career.

``It's been a lot of fun,'' Hilton said Wednesday. ``I love changing games, bringing another dimension to the game. It's all fun.''

Hilton is no ordinary rookie and in no ordinary learning environment.

Interim coach Bruce Arians has a history of waiting patiently for new receivers to get acclimated to facing bigger, faster defenders before turning them loose and raising the expectations. See Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh.

Hilton also didn't come from a big school with a gaudy draft grade or the burden of living up to the reputation of other higher-profile receivers.

He was able to get a crash course in film study and practice habits from Pro Bowler Wayne, who spends his offseasons working out in Hilton's hometown of Miami. And with veterans such as Wayne and Donnie Avery already on board, Hilton didn't have to emerge as a go-to receiver immediately.

Instead, the fourth player selected in Indy's rookie class was able to blend in behind the first three picks - quarterback Andrew Luck and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen - and learn things on his own timetable.

Now the Colts (7-4) are reaping the rewards.

``You can just tell that he's playing faster every week, more comfortable,'' Luck said. ``I'm glad to start seeing it pay dividends and hopefully he'll continue to play fast and continue to do decent things.''

In this rookie class, record-breaking chases have become the norm.

Luck is on pace to break the NFL's rookie single-season marks for pass attempts, completions and yardage. With a win Sunday in Detroit, Luck also would break Sam Bradford's rookie record for wins by a No. 1 overall pick (seven).

Allen is closing in on the franchise's rookie receptions record for tight ends.

Hilton, too, is making history. He already shares the Colts' rookie record for 100-yard games (three) with Andre Rison, and last weekend, Hilton became the first player in franchise history to catch a touchdown pass and score on a punt return in the same game.

The second-best rookie in Indianapolis was so impressive against Buffalo, he was named this week's AFC special teams player of the week.

``He's extremely explosive. I think I'll go back to the Louisville game (last year) where he just blew off the tape catching balls down the middle, catching short passes, making guys miss,'' Arians said. ``Punt returns, kick returns, you knew that in the open field, he was extremely dangerous, not just top end speed but elusiveness to go with it, and he had solid hands. More than all those things, he's got a great work ethic and humility about him. He's going to be a great pro.''

Despite being the 13th receiver taken in April's draft, only two rookie receivers have topped Hilton's numbers (33 receptions, 488 yards). And Buffalo coach Chan Gailey acknowledged that it was Hilton - not the usual suspects like Luck or Wayne- who changed last Sunday's game.

It may only be the start.

``Thanksgiving to Christmas is when you want your young wide receivers to step in and have a major role,'' Arians said. ``LaVon (Brazill) has started to increase his productivity. T.Y. has had more opportunities and, obviously, now is becoming a major factor in our offense but also as a punt returner. We always thought it was there, but you've just got to watch him grow.''

And Hilton intends to deliver on that promise.

``I still have a lot of room to grow,'' Hilton said. ``This is the turning point of the season, where rookies normally hit that rookie wall. But I'm feeling good and the game is slowing down for me right now.''

NOTES: The Colts have placed defensive tackles Josh Chapman and Fili Moala on season-ending injured reserve with knee injuries. Indy signed safety Delano Howell off of Buffalo's practice squad and defensive tackle Kellen Heard to take their spots on the active roster. ... Arians expects to get two starters - Fleener and cornerback Vontae Davis - back on the field Sunday at Detroit. Both have missed the last four games with injuries. ... Arians said earlier this week that he didn't expect Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to be suspended this week and when asked Wednesday whether he considered Suh a dirty player, Arians responded: ``No I don't think he's a dirty player. I'd love to have him on my team. I like the way he plays, he plays aggressive, hard and fast and physical and I don't think there's anything wrong. I think that's why they call it football.''

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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