INDIANAPOLIS – Tight end
A fifth-round pick in the 2010 draft, he was joining a team that had just made the Super Bowl in an eighth consecutive playoff season. Eldridge opened eight of 14 rookie appearances as the Colts won 10 or more games for a ninth straight year and qualified for the post-season again.
In 2011, Eldridge started eight of 13 outings. The club, however, had its first non-winning season since 2001, something he did not experience in college, nor had most teammates experienced in Indianapolis. Losing was rough, but Eldridge focused on his development.
“My first two years have been what I thought they would be,” said Eldridge. “It’s been tough, especially having the losing record. It was the first time that happened in a while. It was not something we had expected but other than that, my first two years have been everything I thought it would be.
“I have come along fine physically for the most part. I hurt my knee my first year and had a couple of surgeries done after that season. I worked on that the last off-season. Last year, I had a hand injury but other than that, I was okay. It is a physical game, definitely a step up from college. I think I am coming along like all players do their first couple of years, and I’m excited about this upcoming season.”
Eldridge came from an Oklahoma program where he was used more extensively in the running game than in getting open downfield. The Colts have a new head coach in Chuck Pagano and a virtually-rebuilt staff that could put a heavier emphasis on the ground game. Eldridge is ready for anything he can do.
“I think one of my strengths is my in-line blocking,” said Eldridge. “It was something I had done before coming here. I’m excited about that. I like it a lot, and it will be a challenge for me. I have been looked at as the blocking tight end. I played more of that style in college. At Oklahoma, we had Jermaine Gresham to run the routes, while I blocked. It worked out well there. I think it can work out here. I think it plays to my skills.”
Eldridge feels any possible system changes will be a relatively easy adjustment.
“I think it will be easier for me to do than if I were farther along in my career,” said Eldridge. “I just learned a new system coming in. The younger guys like me learned it, but we were not as ingrained in it as some of the other veterans. There may be less to unlearn, so to speak. I think I can adapt well to whatever changes we have. It comes down to work and attention to detail.”
With the Colts, he has been exposed to quality tight ends in Dallas Clark and
“From Dallas and Jacob I learned how to be a pro, how to take care of your body,” said Eldridge. “I learned a pretty good schedule from them off the field about when to watch film, when to watch extra film, how to handle the non-practice times of the season. A young player can use good examples of how to transition to the NFL. The game is faster and this level is all business. It’s all football. It’s also important to be even-keeled and be able to react to the things this game throws at you. You learn a lot on your own before you get here, but you can learn other things by watching teammates and listening to coaches.”
The adjustments to the NFL are real for every young player. Eldridge has seen what it takes to get conditioned to the league.
“For me, this game was much more of a mental challenge than physical. The game is quite a bit quicker than college, but I felt I was comfortable with the physical part,” he said. “The mental part is tougher because of the things you have to learn with the offense and to be ready for anything that could be called. One thing about this league is the work you have to put in away from the field. It’s something people never really see.
“I think the other parts of my game are coming along. I’ve improved on my route-running and catching. Those are two things I have focused on. I’m not saying that I am great or am an all-round tight end yet, but I’m improving on it. It takes work and extra time, but I’m happy to do it. I want to establish myself as a top professional. You always have to take the approach that you can get better. There are things to learn, fundamentals to work on and ways to improve. You have to keep your eyes and ears open for ways to make yourself better. That’s the way you get to stay in the league.”
Eldridge has been active for 27 of 32 possible career games. He has 14 receptions for 84 yards, and he is focused on improving and contributing more in his third year.
“When I started, guys told me how I would be surprised how quickly it will go. I believed them, and now I’ve lived it,” said Eldridge. “It’s really gone quickly so far. We made the playoffs my first year and last year we didn’t. I’m like every player. You put things behind you so you can focus ahead. I’m looking at this year, and I am ready to do whatever the coaches ask of me.
“Last year showed me that anybody can beat anybody in this league. I was aware of that from the outset of my career, and we always had done a good job of looking at things one week at a time. Last year reinforced what we knew. We worked hard, but things just didn’t add up for us. It was tough, but this is a new year.”
Eldridge is from La Cynge, Kansas, a town of about 1,200 people that is not far from Kansas City. Indianapolis is a good geographic fit for Eldridge, and he is like all Colts and NFL players when he returns home periodically.
“I think we all get the same types of questions regardless of where we are from,” said Eldridge. “Family and friends always want to know what certain teammates are like. You also get questions about, ‘What’s it like going against Jason Taylor?’ The NFL is such a high-profile, year-round sport that people all have questions for you. We’re lucky as players to be in a job that fascinates people, and it is important to understand how much this game means to them.”
Clark was slowed with a leg injury in 2011, and he has been released by the club. Clark had 427 career receptions for 4,887 yards and 46 touchdowns, setting the franchise positional records in receptions and touchdowns. Tamme is not under contract with the club. He started five of 16 appearances last year and had 19 receptions for 177 yards and one touchdown.