INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July — and training camp — right around the corner, it's time for the Indianapolis Colts' Burning Questions series.
We continue today with the tight end position:
• Just how good can the Jack Doyle/Eric Ebron duo be?
Jack Doyle gets better and better with each passing season, as evidenced last year with a career-high 80 receptions and his first-ever Pro Bowl selection.
But what if the Colts had another major threat in the passing game at the tight end position? Someone who seems to be the perfect complement to what Doyle already brings?
We're about to find out what that will look like.
The Colts this offseason signed free agent tight end Eric Ebron, who spent his first four seasons with the Detroit Lions, where he was the 10th-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Ebron was a productive playmaker for the Lions — he became just the fifth tight end in NFL history to accumulate 185 catches, 2,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns through their age-24 season — but he views his signing with the Colts as an opportunity to have a fresh start elsewhere.
It seems as though Doyle and Ebron could be the ideal matchup in first-year head coach Frank Reich's offense.
Doyle, we know, is the dependable security blanket across the middle; a guy who isn't flashy, but somehow finds his way open time and time again, and catches the ball when it's thrown his way. Ebron, meanwhile, is much more of a downfield threat and a mismatch nightmare; someone who can beat cornerbacks with strength and size inside, but someone who can also outrun linebackers and safeties over the top.
With Andrew Luck back in the fold at quarterback, it'll be interesting to see just how these tight ends are involved in the passing game.
• How many tight ends do you keep on the 53-man roster?
Beyond Doyle and Ebron are some extremely interesting possibilities at the tight end position.
There's Darrell Daniels, who went undrafted last year but still was able to play in 12 games as a player who bought in to his roles on special teams while continuing to evolve in his role on the offense, finishing with three receptions for 26 yards. It's probably fair to compare Daniels to where Doyle was at that point of his career — someone willing to do the dirty work who could certainly develop into more of a weapon down the road.
Then there's the three former college basketball players — Mo Alie-Cox, Erik Swoope and Ross Travis — who bring a ton of athleticism and pass-catching potential to the position. While Swoope and Travis seem to have the upper hand as far as NFL development, Alie-Cox certainly seemed to begin clicking a lot better during the Colts' offseason workout program, and has added more muscle to his 6-foot-5, 267-pound frame to make his blocking duties a little more manageable.
If you're Reich or offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, you'd love to keep all six tight ends on your 53-man roster — but that's just not likely realistic, especially because the team has expressed an interest in keeping additional numbers along the offensive and defensive lines.
So if you keep, for example, Doyle and Ebron and two others, then those two additional players are undoubtedly going to have to be helpful in more than just their ability to catch the ball.
It should make for a heated competition come training camp.
• Can Erik Swoope get to 100 percent before the season?
Erik Swoope's story has been told often, so we already know of how he had never played organized football and was a player on the University of Miami's basketball team when the Colts reached out about the possibility of developing him as a tight end a few years back.
Since that time, Swoope hasn't blinked once as he has been willing to do whatever it takes to quickly learn the game of professional football, as well as the nuances of the tight end position.
And after the team traded away Dwayne Allen last offseason, Swoope headed into the 2017 regular season as the team's No. 2 tight end — that was until he underwent a knee scope prior to Week 1, and was placed on Injured Reserve.
Swoope was one of the Colts' IR players designated to return later in the season, and although he was able to practice, he just wasn't able to get back to full health by the time the team had reached the deadline to decide whether or not to add him to the active roster, so he reverted to IR for the rest of the year.
The belief was because Swoope was so close to returning last season, that he'd be good to go for the Colts this offseason, but No. 86 was not out there during the OTAs and minicamp practices available to be viewed by the media. And because the team is not obligated to provide an injury report during the offseason, it's unknown whether Swoope's knee issues have lingered, if he has perhaps suffered another injury or if the team was simply holding him out as a precaution.
We'll look for an update on Swoope when the Colts report for training camp on July 25, but if and when he does get back, he faces another uphill climb, as the likes of Alie-Cox, Daniels and Travis have each flashed plenty of potential throughout the team's offseason workout program, and have the leg up entering camp and the preseason.