Colts’ camp preview: Tight ends

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CINCINNATI, OHIO – AUGUST 29: Jack Doyle #84 of the Indianapolis Colts watches the action during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on August 29, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – This is the next in a series taking a position-by-position look at the Indianapolis Colts heading into training camp, which is scheduled to open July 28 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

Today: TIGHT ENDS

  • Starters: Jack Doyle, Trey Burton.
  • Depth: Mo Alie-Cox, Farrod Green (R), Matt Lengel, Ian Bunting, Xavier Grimble.

Jack’s room: 

There have been higher-profile names in the room. The 2012 draft delivered Coby Fleener (round 2) and Dwayne Allen (round 3) into the mix. Veteran free agency in 2018 added Eric Ebron. The 10th overall pick in the ’14 draft relocated from Detroit to Indy with a two-year, $15 million contract.

Yet Jack Doyle is the last man standing. The Cathedral H.S. grad certainly was on the Colts’ radar in 2013, but he returned home as a waiver-wire claim in September after failing to make the Tennessee Titans’ 53-man roster.

Now look at him.

“Jack’s fundamentally sound,’’ Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton said. “I call him our Tim Duncan.

“He’s special.’’

Added quarterback Jacoby Brissett: “He’s a beast out there. He does everything for us, everything right. He’s a guy I think a lot of players on the team look up to.’’

So does management.

Chris Ballard’s first major personnel decision after settling in as the Colts’ general manager was to re-sign Doyle to a three-year, $19 million contract. In December, he ponied up again, signing Doyle to a three-year extension worth roughly $21 million.

There is little flashy with Doyle. He’s one of the quiet Colts, but also is one of the most reliable. He’s averaged a modest 9.0 yards on his 243 receptions, but is one of those invaluable move-the-chains options. He’s caught 73.4 percent of the passes thrown his way.

Oh, he’s also a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

“Just the consistency of him,’’ coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “He is tough. I mean, when we look for what we think are good football players, those are always at the top of the list – being tough, being consistent and being smart.’’

The offseason arrival of quarterback Philip Rivers should only enhance Doyle’s presence in the offense. Rivers has leaned heavily on tight ends during his 16-year career with the Chargers.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the Colts’ structured on-field work during the offseason, Doyle was among the players who joined Rivers for several workouts.

“I have built a relationship over these (virtual) meetings and we’ve texted back and forth and have gotten to know him a little bit,’’ Doyle said prior to the workouts. “It definitely gets me excited to have him here and learn a lot from him.’’

Doyle is entering his eighth season and turned 30 in May. He has methodically developed into one of the most prolific tight ends in franchise history. He ranks 5th in receptions (243) and yards (2,176) and tied for 6th with 18 TDs.

The new guy: 

If Frank Reich and Sirianni are going to continue to utilize a tight-end friendly offense, Trey Burton needs to return to form. After a four-year stint, the final two with Reich as his coordinator, and one world championship with the Eagles, Burton signed with Chicago and generated career-best numbers in 2018: 54 receptions, 569 yards, six TDs.

There would be no encore.

Burton was limited to eight games in ’19 by early hernia surgery that he admitted he “rushed back’’ from and a hip injury that required offseason surgery.

The Bears, who signed Burton to a four-year, $32 million contract in ’18, cut him April 18. He admitted his “surprise level was kinda high. Didn’t have any (idea) of that happening leaving the facility at the end of the year.’’

Burton wasn’t unemployed long. Less than a week after being pink-slipped, he was reunited with Reich. The Colts were in the market for someone to complement Doyle after opting not to re-sign Eric Ebron.

“They love pass-catching tight ends and fortunately that’s what I am,’’ Burton said.

It remains to be seen if he can adequately replace Ebron, who was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2018 (66 receptions, 750 yards, 13 TDs). Ebron has averaged 11.3 yards per catch with 27 TDs in 83 games.

Burton has averaged 9.8 yards with 12 TDs in 85 games.

“I’m incredibly excited about Trey,’’ Reich said. “Obviously I was with Trey in Philadelphia. Trey is a big-time playmaking tight end. This guy is an incredible route runner, really smart and instinctive player.

“I think he fits a big need in our offense. You know that spot in our offense gets a lot of attention and I think he can step into that role that Ebron was in.’’

Fact worth noting: 

No one will accuse the Colts of loading the position with draft picks. In fact, there’s not a draft pick in the room.

Each of the seven tight ends on the roster entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent. The rundown: Doyle (2013, Tennessee), Burton (2014, Philadelphia), Alie-Cox (2017, Colts), Grimble (2014, NY Giants), Bunting (2019, Chicago), Lengel (2015, Cincinnati) and Green (2020, Colts).

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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