WESTFIELD — Parris Campbell’s autograph session Friday afternoon quickly became an impromptu history lesson.
The rookie wide receiver first was asked to sign a white No. 87 jersey like the one worn by former star wideout Reggie Wayne. Later, a pink No. 18 jersey — the ladies’ version of former franchise icon Peyton Manning’s game-day attire — was put before Campbell.
An assortment of other Super Bowl XLI championship memorabilia and trinkets commemorating big victories of yesteryear followed.
They’re all part of the franchise’s glorious past. The Indianapolis Colts clearly believe Campbell will be a part of their bright future.
The question all parties are attempting to answer over the next few weeks at Grand Park is how big an impact can the former Ohio State star make in the present?
Campbell was primarily a slot receiver in the Buckeyes’ offense, running a lot of underneath and crossing routes and turning them into big plays with his blazing speed and agility.
That’s a strong fit in the offensive scheme utilized by head coach Frank Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni, but the Colts hope to expand Campbell’s role to take advantage of his full skill set.
The experiment is in the very early stages, but the results have been promising.
“I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming, but definitely I know the task at hand for myself,” Campbell said. “I know the daily job for myself. As a rookie, I just want to come in and just do everything right. When I’m on the field, I never want there to be questions or concerns. I’m just trying to build that trust practice by practice.”
The story of Reich’s infatuation with the speedy wide receiver during February’s NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium already has become well worn.
But even at that early window, the head coach envisioned more than conventional wisdom predicted Campbell had to offer.
Ohio State rarely asked the 22-year-old to go deep or to play on the outside of the formation. He returned kickoffs on special teams but never punts.
Some evaluators looked at the data and saw a talented player with a limited range of options. Reich saw an underutilized beast waiting to be unchained.
“We never thought — when (general manager) Chris (Ballard) and his staff and us and our coaching staff looked and evaluated Parris — we never saw just a gadet, slot, hybrid-receiver guy,” Reich said. “We saw a guy who could develop into a legit wide receiver, inside, outside, has the skills, the footwork to run all the routes. And it’s just gonna be a process. It’s only been two days, but we’re seeing the skill set that we were hoping we would see.”
There is a concern of putting too much on Campbell’s plate too soon.
Indianapolis prefers to work rookies in at one spot, allow them to master that role and then expand upon that foundation.
So the majority of Campbell’s work so far has come in the slot. And that’s where he’s likely to see his most immediate playing time.
T.Y. Hilton and Devin Funchess are the starting outside receivers, and highly regarded Deon Cain — returning from a knee injury that cost him his entire rookie year — also figures to play a prominent role.
Campbell is likely to compete with Chester Rogers for snaps in the slot. But he’s open to anything the Colts throw his way.
As he soaks in knowledge during practices and meetings, he’s determined to use all of the resources at hand. That includes Hilton, who has spent seven seasons developing into one of the NFL’s greatest weapons.
Campbell’s speed is such that even Hilton won’t make a definitive prediction on who would win a footrace between the two. But it’s the veteran’s technique that most interests Campbell.
On Friday, Hilton ran a release on an outside route that was so effortless and smooth, the rookie had to go over and find out what he was thinking. What did he see from the defense that made him make that move?
According to Hilton, it’s been a common occurrence since the rookie arrived as a second-round pick this spring.
“He’s always in my head, asking me questions,” Hilton said. “I love that about him because that’s what I did with Reggie Wayne.”
In fact, it’s become something of a tradition in Indianapolis. Wayne learned at the foot of Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, then passed his knowledge on to the next generation through Hilton.
Campbell would love to become another solid link in the chain.
For now, he’s primarily concerned with mastering his role in the offense and earning the trust of his coaches and teammates.
Campbell believes that’s the key to reaching his full potential.
“I gotta come in with the right mindset to make sure I’m on all my assignments, have no screwups and just continue to do the right things,” he said. “But, as I progress and continue to learn the offense and continue to get my feet underneath me, definitely (I expect big things).”