Colts’ camp preview: Tight ends


Jack Doyle #84 of the Indianapolis Colts carries the ball against the New York Jets in the first half during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 5, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The wait is nearly over. Months of speculation – how much progress did general manager Chris Ballard actually make in his offseason upgrade of the Indianapolis Colts’ roster? – will give way to some type of reality.

Players report July 25 for the start of training camp at Grand Park in Westfield, and then we’ll get some answers.

“Let’s just wait until training camp, get everybody out there, be at full strength,’’ coach Frank Reich said.

Between now and then, we’ll take a look at some positions of interest.

Today: Tight end.
Projected starters: Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron.
Backups: Erik Swoope, Ross Travis, Darrell Daniels, Mo Alie-Cox.

Man on the move:

Eric Ebron’s relocation from Detroit to Indy in March was a precursor for his role with the Colts. He was a man on the move as Reich installed his offense.

Where did the veteran tight end line up?

“Everywhere,’’ Ebron said with a smile.

On any given play, the 6-4, 250-pounder might be lined up tight to the line, situated in the slot or split out wide.

“Everywhere except the backfield,’’ he said. “I’m still trying to get a handoff. I’ll work on it.’’

That work isn’t likely to produced the desired results.

“I don’t think there’s any chance of that,’’ Reich said. “We might start him in the backfield at some point just to kind of hide him.

“I’m not envisioning any handoffs to him.’’

It wouldn’t be Ebron’s first. In 56 career games, he has one carry, and it produced maximum results: a 1-yard TD against Jacksonville in 2016.

The idea isn’t for Ebron to add to the running back portion of his resume. It’s to represent a versatile option in the Andrew Luck-led passing game. Although he never fulfilled expectations during a four-year stint in Detroit – the Lions selected him with the 10th overall pick in the 2014 draft – neither was he a bust. Ebron had 186 receptions for 2,070 yards and 11 TDs.

The Colts anticipate his career going to another level.

“An explosive player. He’s really explosive,’’ Reich said. “He’s really smart. I knew that because we did our homework before we got him here. He’s a really highly intelligent football player and that’s good because when you want to use a guy with the versatility that he has and you can move him around and call all kinds of things with him, that helps.

“We are really, really excited about him.’’

New tandem:

In 2012, the Colts invested a second-round draft pick in Coby Fleener and a third-rounder in Dwayne Allen. In September 2013, they claimed Jack Doyle off waivers from Tennessee.

The last man standing: Doyle. Fleener signed with the Saints as a free agent in 2016 and Ballard traded Allen to the Patriots during the ’17 offseason.

The former Cathedral H.S. standout has made incredible strides, progressing from Titans castoff, to Fleener/Allen understudy to Pro Bowler. He was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal 2017 with 80 receptions, 690 yards and 4 TDs. The receptions were the second-most by a Colts tight end (Dallas Clark had 100 in ’09).

Ebron has been impressed by what he’s seen of Doyle.

“Yeah. I mean obviously Jack is a Pro Bowler,’’ he said. “There’s nothing more you can say about a person like that. It’s in his resume now.’’

It will be interesting to see how Reich maximizes the Doyle-Ebron tandem. Ebron might possess more down-the-field skills in the passing game, but Doyle has established himself as one of the Colts’ more reliable players. He’s adept at finding open areas in defenses and making the tough, move-the-chains catches.

Worth noting:

This figures to be a critical training camp for Swoope. The former power forward for the University of Miami has made an impressive transition to football, and flashed big-play potential in 2016 with 15 catches for 297 yards and 1 TD. However, a knee injury forced him to miss all of ’17, and kept him off the practice field during the offseason.

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