INDIANAPOLIS – A tight-end friendly offense suddenly is short of friends.
Jack Doyle, the Indianapolis Colts’ quietly-efficient veteran in the room, has been ruled out of Sunday’s home opener against the Minnesota Vikings at Lucas Oil Stadium with ankle and knee injuries. The team already is without Trey Burton, who’s on the injured reserve list and will miss at least the next two games with a calf injury.
The magnitude of Doyle’s loss can’t be overstated. The team initially expected his injuries to keep him out of more than the Vikings game, but he’s making good progress with his rehab.
“Jack is such a money tight end,’’ Frank Reich said Friday on a Zoom conference call. “You just know (what to expect). You can count on him to run a good route. You can count on him to understand leverages, spacing, all those things.’’
He’s a two-time Pro Bowl selection whose 80 receptions in 2017 were the second-most by a tight end in team history. His 246 receptions are the third-most by a Colts tight end in his first eight seasons, trailing Dallas Clark (393) and Hall of Famer John Mackey (309). Doyle also is a top-end blocker.
But, as Reich was quick to point out, “he’s not the only guy.
“If Jack is that guy, it doesn’t mean the other guys that are filling in for him are like not in the same zip code. They’re all in the same zip code.’’
The issue isn’t the lack of candidates to help fill the void created by the absences of Doyle and Burton. It’s the experience of those candidates.
Just like that, Mo Alie-Cox is the no-doubt veteran in the room. And here’s where we remind you he’s 27 and in his fourth season with the team. His first season in 2017 was as a member of the practice squad.
“This is going to be my first game without Jack or Eric (Ebron) with me,’’ Alie-Cox said with a smile. “It’s going to be kinda weird just being the old head in the group.’’
The only other tight end on the active roster is Noah Togiai. The 23-year rookie was claimed off waivers from Philadelphia Sept. 6.
It’s entirely possible Reich and Chris Ballard reinforce the position by elevating one of the two rookie tight ends – Farrod Green or Charlie Taumoepeau – from the practice squad before Sunday.
Entering the game with just two tight ends would be unusual.
“Our offensive scheme is really tight end-centric in a lot of ways,’’ Reich said. “But I really think the guys we’ve got are going to be able to function very well and give us the plays that we need.’’
There’s no doubt Alie-Cox can anticipate a heavier role, particularly in the passing game. In 26 career games, he’s been used more as a physical blocker than receiver. He has 17 receptions for 246 yards and two touchdowns.
“I expect it to change a little bit,’’ Alie-Cox said. “I’ll probably replace a lot of the things that Jack does in the passing game. But at the end of the day, I’m still going to be in there for a bunch of the run plays also.’’
Reich has no doubt Alie-Cox will respond.
“Excited for Mo,’’ he said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in Mo. He’ll step right up and fill that role, play the role well.’’
More health matters
Five players are listed questionable for Sunday’s game: wideouts Michael Pittman Jr. (toe) and Zach Pascal (ankle), defensive end Justin Houston (calf), safety Julian Blackmon (knee) and cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (ankle).
Houston and Pittman didn’t practice Friday, but Houston insisted he’ll play against the Vikings. Blackmon was limited while still rehabbing from knee surgery in December.
Pittman’s status is less certain. He was working with the training staff Friday.
“Just had a little incident (Thursday) in practice,’’ Reich said. “We’ve just got to see how that responds over the next 48 hours.’’
With the uncertainty of Pittman and Pascal, it’s possible Reece Fountain will see action Sunday. The 2018 fifth-round draft was moved from the practice squad to the active roster this week. Fountain missed last season with a dislocated left ankle.
“Reece is explosive,’’ Reich said. “He had a really nice practice out there today as well. Made two really spectacular catches.
“It’s really a credit to him, the injury he’s come back from.’’
The Vikings ruled out only one player, but it’s starting rookie cornerback Carmeron Dantzler. The rookie suffered a rib injury in the team’s opening loss to Green Bay.
With Dantzler out, third-year corner Holton Hill might step into the starting lineup opposite Mike Hughes. First-round pick Jeff Gladney is an option, but he was on the field for just nine defensive snaps against the Packers.
Minnesota’s young cornerbacks struggled against Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers passed for 364 yards and four TDs. Green Bay finished with 522 total yards, an NFL-best on opening day.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.