By Mike Chappell
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Nyheim Hines dabbled in social media as he was wading through his rookie training camp, until social media reared its ugly head.
When the Indianapolis Colts’ fourth-round running back was down – more than a few bobbles and mishandled kicks and punts during preseason games – social media kicked him. And kept kicking him.
“I got off social media,’’ Hines said Tuesday, flashing a smile. “Social media is cool and all, but it’s not cool when you’re on Twitter and people are mentioning you and telling you to ‘Hold onto the (expletive) ball’ and all that kind of stuff.
“I haven’t been on Twitter since the first preseason game. It’s been pretty cool. Me not being on social media has helped out a lot.’’
The Colts stumbled in Sunday’s opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, but Hines and fellow rookie running back Jordan Wilkins weren’t part of the problem. Each dealt with pre-game jitters, then went out and did what was asked of him.
For those trivia buffs, Wilkins became just the third rookie to start at running back on opening day since the Colts’ relocation in 1984. The previous two: Edgerrin James (1999) and Marshall Faulk (1994).
“Really? Wow,’’ said Wilkins, thrust into the starting lineup while Marlon Mack continued to mend from a hamstring injury. “That’s pretty cool to be mentioned with those guys, but I have a lot of work to do.’’
Wilkins led the Colts with 40 yards on 14 carries, and added 21 yards on three receptions.
Hines didn’t start, but it didn’t take long for him to make his NFL debut. On the Colts’ second offensive play, he replaced Wilkins and was the target of Andrew Luck’s first pass since the final game of the 2016 season.
“I had some jitters,’’ Hines admitted, “but it wasn’t really that bad. In my mind I was telling myself, ‘It can’t go any worse than my first two preseason games.’’
He mishandled four returns in the first two games, capped by a lost fumble on the second-half kickoff against Baltimore.
During those down weeks at training camp, Hines sought comfort from an appropriate source.
“I was here by myself for a little bit,’’ he said, “then I told my dad I needed him to come up here. He stayed up here for about a week. He took some vacation. That helped out a lot.’’
His father’s advice cut to the heart of the matter. He simply told his son to be himself, be the all-around talent he was at North Carolina State that convinced the Colts to add him to their renovation project.
“He just told me to trust my speed and do what I did to get here,’’ Hines said. “It’s still football. I mean everybody’s good, but he told me for me to get here there was an amount of things I did well.
“He told me to be fast, be quick and be physical when I need to be. He told me to just stick to who I am.’’
Hines left N.C. State a year early, but not before leaving his mark and putting his versatility on display. In 38 games, he rushed 258 times 1,399 yards and 13 touchdowns; caught 89 passes for 933 yards and one TD; returned 88 kicks for a 24.7 average and two TDs; and returned 11 punts for 135 yards and another TD.
It’s worth remembering Hines primarily was a wideout his first two seasons with the Wolfpack before switching to running back. In his final season, he led the ACC by averaging 143.6 all-purpose yards per game.
As his father reminded: Just be yourself.
The Colts didn’t disguise their enthusiasm for finding ways to accentuate Hines’ versatility in Frank Reich’s offense. They saw him as a back capable of creating mismatch issues and doing damage in open spaces.
That was evident during the summer OTAs and training camp at Grand Park, but the coaching staff kept Hines’ offensive possibilities pretty much under wraps during the preseason. He had 13 carries for 19 yards and two catches for 8 yards.
Offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni admitted the coaching staff basically “hid’’ Hines during the preseason, and never lost confidence in what he could bring to the offense.
“We just knew the type of player we saw on film at North Carolina State and the player that we saw every day at practice,’’ Sirianni said. “That’s how we’re going to be with our guys, just try to keep confidence in them and keep riding them until they do make plays.
“It took Nyheim making a couple of plays that maybe he didn’t make in the preseason just because of the things we were calling in the preseason to hide him a little bit. I just thought it took him making a couple of plays and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t so much different than North Carolina State. It’s a little faster, but I’m pretty fast, too.’
“When he got that experience of making a play . . . that just snowballed for him.’’
The key play occurred midway through the second quarter and the Colts facing a second-and-12 at their own 38. Luck scanned the field before finding the matchup he liked: Hines being covered by linebacker Preston Brown. That’s a battle Hines should win virtually every time, and he did for a 17-yard catch-and-run.
The third-down conversion was critical to the offense getting into position for Adam Vinatieri’s 38-yard field goal.
“I thought, ‘OK, I’m here now. This is Nyheim,’’’ Hines said. “Bad things had happened, but I made a big play over the middle. I was the hot throw and Andrew threw it perfect and I made a play.’’
Hines was one of the busier options on offense with 14 opportunities. He rushed five times for 19 yards and had seven catches for 33 yards on nine targets.
Maybe it’s time to return to social media? Nope.
“I’m really superstitious so everything I do from week-to-week is basically the routine of what I did the last week,’’ Hines said. “I didn’t get on Twitter last week, so I definitely won’t go back on there this week.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.