INDIANAPOLIS – Has it been that long ago that Jack Doyle was wondering what was next with an NFL career that had yet to take off?
Yes, it has.
It was nearly nine years ago the Cathedral High School and Western Kentucky product was waived by the Tennessee Titans and claimed by his hometown Indianapolis Colts.
Just like that, Doyle, wide-eyed and 23, was one of those young wannabes/hopefuls on a roster teeming with veteran presences: Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, Matt Hasselbeck, Adam Vinatieri, Cory Redding and four others on the long side of 30.
“Time does fly and you just take it one year at a time,’’ Doyle said recently. “Sometimes some of the younger players will ask, ‘What year is this for you?’ It’s weird to say ‘Nine.’
“If you would’ve asked Jack Doyle back in 2013 how many years he was going to play in the NFL, I don’t know if I would’ve said nine. But it’s just fun to be here every day and be with the guys playing a kids’ game.’’
Doyle, a fixture at tight end, represents one of those warm and fuzzy stories in an otherwise cold and calculated NFL.
From the waiver wire to a nine-year career.
From making the non-guaranteed rookie minimum in 2013 ($405,000) to being re-signed to a pair of extensions by general manager Chris Ballard – retaining Doyle was Ballard’s first significant business decision in 2017 – and earning more than $32.8 million and counting during his career. He’s due roughly another $11 million over the final two years of his latest extension.
From earning one of the final roster spots in ’13 to a pair of Pro Bowl selections and a 80-catch season in ’17, the second-most by a tight end in team history.
From being one of the newbies to representing the old(er) guard.
Doyle and Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton are the most tenured Colts – Hilton is heading into his 10th season – and, at 31, the oldest. Only three other players are 30: cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie and offensive tackle Eric Fisher.
By contrast, the Arizona Cardinals’ roster includes a league-high 16 players 30 years or older. New England has 14 and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay, Chicago, San Francisco and Baltimore 13 each.
In fact, according to NFL Stats, the Colts are tied with Atlanta and Cleveland with the 8th-youngest roster in the league at 24.98. The Los Angeles Rams (24.62), Carolina Panthers (24.74) and Minnesota Vikings (24.74) lead the way.
Of the 90 players in line to report to training camp July 27 at Grand Park Sports Campus, 57 (63.3%) are 25 or younger.
The makeup of the roster has gradually taken on a younger look as Ballard and his personnel staff have leaned heavily on the draft, and hit with a majority of those picks. Thirty-four of the 90 players under contract are Ballard draftees, including 14 projected starters. Toss in Hilton (’12 draft) and Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly (’16), and 16 starters are homegrown talent.
More than a few of Ballard’s draft picks already are considered building blocks for the future: All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson (2018), All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard (’18), right tackle Braden Smith (’18), wideout Michael Pittman Jr. (’20), running back Jonathan Taylor (’20), safety Khari Willis (’19), defensive tackle Grover Stewart (’17), running back Nyheim Hines (’18).
As is always the case when building a playoff-caliber roster, all avenues must be traveled. Trades delivered quarterback Carson Wentz and All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner; Doyle, nickel corner Kenny Moore II, guard Mark Glowinski, wideout Zach Pascal and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad were waiver-wire additions; All-Pro special teams standout/backup safety George Odum, punter Rigoberto Sanchez, placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship and tight end Mo Alie-Cox were post-draft rookie signings.
Coordinator Matt Eberflus has discussed the top-to-bottom quality of the depth on defense with Ballard.
“We always do it this time of year and we talk about what’s going to go on during training camp,’’ he said.
They discussed the defensive line, linebackers, safeties, corners and nickel backs.
“What we saw was competition,’’ Eberflus said. “We saw it throughout the whole thing. We’ve never had this depth before. They’ve done a great job of building depth here.’’
Coach Frank Reich agreed.
“We feel like we have great depth,’’ he said. “I just feel really strongly about our team and the players we have.
“I’m glad we had a draft and I’m glad we signed guys and so on and so forth, but I just feel we do have the right roster, the kind of players who are getting better. I think last year was a good year for us, but I’m anticipating that we’re stronger and better this year.’’
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the 90-player roster:
(* – rookie)
Quarterback (4): Carson Wentz, Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger*, Jalen Morton.
Running back (7): Jonathan Taylor, Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Darius Anderson, Benny LeMay, Deon Jackson*.
Wide receiver (13): T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, Dezmon Patmon, Ashton Duhlin, DeMichael Harris, J.J. Nelson, Quartney Davis, Gary Jennings, Michael Strachan*, Tarik Black*, Tyler Vaughns*.
Tight end (7): Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Andrew Vollert, Jordan Thomas, Noah Togiai, Farrod Green, Kylen Granson*.
Offensive line: (15): Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Braden Smith, Mark Glowinski, Eric Fisher, Danny Pinter, Will Holden, Joey Hunt, Jake Eldrenkamp, Sam Tevi, Julien Davenport, Chris Reed, Carter O’Donnell, Jake Benzinger, Will Fries*.
Line (15): DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart, Tyquan Lewis, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Kemoko Turay, Ben Banogu, Rob Windsor, Taylor Stallworth, Isaac Rochell, Kameron Cline, Andrew Brown, Chris Williams, Antwaun Woods, Kwity Paye*, Dayo Odeyingbo*.
Linebacker (9): Darius Leonard, Bobby Okereke, E.J. Speed, Matthew Adams, Zaire Franklin, Jordan Glasgow, Skai Moore, Malik Jefferson, Isaiah Kaufusi*.
Cornerback (8): Kenny Moore II, Xavier Rhodes, T.J. Carrie, Rock Ya-Sin, Marvell Tell III, Isaiah Rodgers, Anthony Chesley, Andre Chachere.
Safety (8): Khari Willis, Julian Blackmon, George Odum, Sean Davis, Rolan Milligan, Ibraheim Campbell, Shawn Davis*, Nick Nelson.
Kicker (2) – Rodrigo Blankenship, Eddy Pineiro.
Punter (1) – Rigoberto Sanchez.
Longsnapper (1) – Luke Rhodes.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.