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Opportunity to shine lured Kamar Aiken to Colts

BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 2: Kamar Aiken #11 of the Baltimore Ravens makes a catch in the first quarter against the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indianapolis Colts’ sales pitch essentially served its purpose when one word reached Kamar Aiken’s ears: Opportunity.

The veteran wide receiver was considering his options on the NFL’s free agent market, and that included the Colts.

Aware of the NFL’s quarterback landscape, Aiken realized Indy offered a top-tier thrower. That would be Andrew Luck.

“It played a lot,’’ Aiken admitted Wednesday during a conference call. “I have heard nothing but great things about him. I actually took some visits and was able to sit down with some players from other teams and they spoke highly of him.

“That put it in perspective how people around the league feel about him. I want to play with somebody that is great and that has the work ethic that wants to win and wants to see his receivers be successful.’’

Along with the opportunity to play pitch-and-catch with Luck, Aiken’s interested sharpened when general manager Chris Ballard insisted he would have the opportunity to compete for serious playing time.

“With Chris, we had a good talk,’’ he said. “I was told there is going to be open competition basically in our receiver room, which is better for the whole receiver room, and then I would still have my special teams role as well.’’

That opportunity, according to Aiken, was missing during his three-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens. He enjoyed a breakout season in 2015 – 75 receptions, 944 yards and five TDs, all team highs – but that largely was a result of injuries decimating the receiving corps. First-round draft pick Breshad Perriman missed his rookie season after suffering a knee injury on the first day of training camp, then veteran Steve Smith Sr. tore his Achilles in late October.

“They didn’t really have anybody to turn to,’’ Aiken said, who joined the Colts this week with a one-year contract. “Even though I had been doing everything I had to do up until that point, I was kind of like the next man in line.

“I just saw it as an opportunity and I told myself week-in and week-out that you never know when you’re going to get this opportunity again, so make the best of it.’’

He did precisely that, including setting a Ravens record with nine straight games with at least five receptions.

Despite the breakout season, Aiken found himself on the bottom end of the depth chart in ’16 as Smith and Perriman returned and Mike Wallace joined the group as a free agent. He was targeted 50 times, fifth-highest on the team, but his 29 receptions ranked fourth among receivers and eighth among Ravens.

“It was definitely frustrating because I felt like I did enough to at least have the opportunity to build off of what I did the year before,’’ Aiken said. “But I really didn’t have that. My role was dropped back on the depth chart and then basically special teams.

“There was nothing that I was doing to say, ‘Well, he’s not doing this well. He’s not doing that well.’ That’s just what it was. I just got in there week 1 and the next thing you know I look at the depth chart and now I’m back (down) the depth chart.’’

Now, there seems to be a realistic opportunity for Aiken to fight for serious snaps. His size – 6-2, 215 pounds – makes Aiken a serious red-zone threat and adds a physical presence to the group.

“Kamar is a tough competitor and has shown he can be a consistent wide receiver in this league,’’ Ballard said in a team release. “He adds a nice complement to our wide receiver group and we look forward to watching him compete.’’

The competition for meaningful playing time figures to be intense. The receiver room includes T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett and Chester Rogers.

Hilton is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and one of three Colts – Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are the others – to post four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Moncrief has 13 touchdown catches in his last 25 games and has shown signs of being a legitimate sidekick to Hilton, but a fractured scapula limited him to nine games last season. The team still is waiting for Dorsett, its 2015 first-round pick, to emerge.

“I’ve never had (open competition) in my career since I’ve been in the league, to be honest,’’ Aiken said. “A lot of times teams will tell you, ‘Yeah, it’s competition,’ and it really isn’t competition.

“I believe what (Ballard) said it’s going to be a competition and the best guys will play. I think that’s good for the whole room in general. It’s going to bring everybody’s play up.’’