Career year has had ups, downs for Colts’ Jack Doyle

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Jack Doyle #84 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates after scoring the game winning touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the second half at Nissan Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s been a season to remember for Jack Doyle, the most productive of his still-evolving five-year career with his hometown team.

The good. And the not so good.

The Indianapolis Cathedral High School product generally has been a silver lining in an otherwise dark Colts season. With two games remaining, Doyle has set career highs with 71 receptions and 611 yards. He’ll be the first tight end to lead the Colts in receptions since Dallas Clark matched Reggie Wayne’s 100 in 2009, and the first with the outright lead since Pat Beach – a blast from the past – in 1985 (36).

“I think he’s had a really good year,’’ Chuck Pagano said. “He’s going to tell you no because of where we sit record-wise.’’

Yes, Doyle is all about team and how the individual must do whatever it takes to better the whole.

“Just tried to do my job as I always do,’’ he said, his deflective demeanor intact. “There’s been ups and downs personally, too, through the year.’’

That’s the reason Doyle is hesitant – no, refuses – to dwell too long on the positives. Prior to Beach in ’85, the only tight ends to lead the Colts in receptions were Hall of Famer John Mackey, Tom Mitchell and Jim Mutscheller.

There have been a few occasions when he’s endured very un-Doyle-like moments.

There was a dropped pass against the Cleveland Browns. In a 36-22 loss to the Tennessee Titans in week 6, Doyle was unable to secure a third-down pass and lost a fumble that led to a Titans’ field goal. Against Pittsburgh last month, a fourth-quarter Jacoby Brissett pass slipped through his hands and was secured by linebacker Ryan Shazier for a game-turning interception.

The hiccups were magnified by Doyle’s enhanced role. On March 7, first-time general manager Chris Ballard retained Doyle, about to test his worth on the NFL’s free-agent market, with a three-year, $19 million contract. Two days later, Ballard traded Dwayne Allen to the New England Patriots.

Just like that, Doyle was the guy. Regardless his status – No. 3 behind Allen and Coby Fleener, Allen’s backup, the main man – he remained hard on himself when he didn’t measure up to his own standards.

“There was a time I struggled a little bit,’’ Doyle said. “But that did help me grow as a player, it really did. I’ve been asked to do more and at a new level, and it was the first time in my NFL career I’ve had that kind of adversity.

“Things weren’t going that well, but it was how you respond. Like I said, I feel I grew as a person and a player through that. Bad stuff’s going to happen in life. It’s always about how you respond. Just trying to do the best you can.’’

Without Andrew Luck and with Brissett learning on the fly, the offense has struggled. It’s moved in fits and starts, and routinely faded in the second half.

Doyle has been a constant. He’s had at least two catches in all 13 games – he missed the San Francisco game with a concussion – and had seven or more on six occasions. In the 24-23 loss at Cincinnati, Doyle had the game of his life: 12 catches, 121 yards, one touchdown.

Among NFL tight ends, only Kansas City’s Travis Kelce (79) has more receptions. Doyle’s modest 8.6 average per catch is a reflection of him frenquently being used to reinforce pass protection and serving as Brissett’s security blanket when protection has broken down.

Complicating Doyle’s season has been the absence of a viable sidekick. A knee injury during training camp forced Erik Swoope to miss the entire season. The revolving door affixed to the tight ends’ room has spun with Brandon Williams, Darnell Daniels, Ross Travis, Jason Vander Laan and Henry Krieger-Coble.

Tight ends not named Jack Doyle have contributed 18 catches and 180 yards.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do in the run game, pass protection and receiving,’’ Pagano said. “I think he rebounded from a slow start . . . he’s a great pro and a great leader. He just comes in here and works every single day and he’s going to give us everything that he has.’’

Frank Gore’s eyes light up whenever the discussion turns to Doyle. The veteran running back appreciates Doyle’s no-nonsense, low-key approach.

“Jack’s a pro,’’ Gore said, offering his ultimate compliment.

Doyle smiled when Gore’s comments were shared.

“Be trusted,’’ he said. “Be in the right spots. That’s what this game is. It’s the ultimate team game. If you can earn that (respect) from teammates and have a team full of guys who are doing that, you’d think you’d have success.

“I just hate letting teammates down. That’s all it comes down to. They’re looking at you to be a leader and do your job, as I’m looking at them to do their job. That’s tough when things don’t go your way, but that’s life.

“You’ve got to respond.’’

Five ruled out

Pagano ruled five players out of Saturday’s game at Baltimore: wide receiver Donte Moncrief (ankle), cornerback Rashaan Melvin (hand), tight ends Brandon Williams (concussion) and Jason Vander Laan (concussion) and offensive lineman Denzelle Good (knee).

Cornerback Nate Hairston, who missed the last game with a concussion, was expected to see an independent neurologist Thursday as the final phase of the NFL’s concussion protocol.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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