INDIANAPOLIS — Hale Hentges kept his cell phone nearby the last 40 or so hours, putting his immediate fate in the hands of the Indianapolis Colts’ coaches and personnel staff.
Well aware of the Colts’ streak of keeping undrafted rookie free agents on their initial 53-man roster, Hentges wondered if he had done enough throughout training camp and the preseason to add his name to that list.
By 4 p.m. Saturday, Hentges never received a call from the Colts — the best of signs each year on roster cutdown day. That means the Alabama product has officially made the team’s initial 53-man roster, and extends Indy’s active streak carrying an undrafted rookie free agent — the longest such streak in the NFL — to 21 years.
A dependable blocking tight end at Alabama, where he played 58 games across four seasons, Hentges — who didn’t commit a single penalty for the Crimson Tide — caught just 15 passes for 124 yards and six touchdowns in his college career.
But after being signed as an undrafted free agent, Hentges never really slowed down in his progression as he learned head coach Frank Reich’s offense, particularly as a receiver. In fact, in training camp, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni would joke with the defensive backs that they simply couldn’t cover Hentges in one-on-one drills.
Both Reich and Sirianni have said they considered Hentges’ skillset and consistency as a pass catcher to be a pleasant surprise.
“I think that was something that kind of surprised me, that (they were) paying that close attention to it,” Hentges said of those remarks after Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals. “And I was just fortunate to go out there and make a couple plays in one-on-ones throughout camp. And hats off to the quarterbacks for throwing good balls, and just giving a guy who doesn’t give a ton a separation a chance to go up and making a play.”
Hentges will admit he’s not the most athletic guy on the field. But he said he’s leaned on the leaders in the tight end room — guys like Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron, both Pro Bowlers — to show him the ropes so that he can find ways to get an edge on certain play calls. Doyle, in fact, also made the Colts' Week 1 roster as an undrafted free agent coming out of Western Kentucky in 2013.
“That’s really what it comes down to; I’m not the type of guy that’s going to blow the doors off; I just gotta make tough catches,” Hentges said. “And luckily being with these guys, and just learning from guys like Jack and Eric, I’ve kind of learned how to use what God gave me and not what I’m a little deficient at.”
Hentges, a standout during training camp practices, hauled in seven catches for 80 yards, as well as a two-point conversion, in four preseason games. As of now, the team decided to keep him on its initial 53-man roster over veteran Ross Travis, who was waived on Saturday.
Hentges said he wasn’t always sure he’d be in position to make the Colts’ Week 1 roster. But by staying consistent — and by asking plenty of questions — he’s carved his path, and also is responsible for extending the Colts’ streak in the process.
“There was a lot of times I had some doubts — I think as a lot of people do. Especially going into such a great tight end room,” Hentges said Thursday night. “But I was pleased with what I’ve done, and I felt like I showed that I can contribute in this league in some fashion, and we’ll see what happens from here.”
Since 1999, the Colts have had a total of 56 undrafted rookies make their Week 1 roster — including at least one each year, the longest active streak in the NFL — an average of more than two per season:
» 1999: Chukie Nwokorie, DE; Terrence Wilkins, WR
» 2000: Ben Gilbert, G; Kevin McDougal, Brandon Miller, DT; RB; Justin Snow, LS/TE; Payton Williams, CB
» 2001: Jermaine Hampton, DB; Wes Ours, RB; Dominic Rhodes, RB
» 2002: Raheem Brock, DE; Justin Seaverms, LB; Ricky Williams, RB
» 2003: Gary Brackett, LB; Anthony Floyd, DB; Aaron Moorehead, WR; Brad Pyatt, WR
» 2004: Josh Thomas, DE
» 2005: Darrell Reid, DT; Matt Ulrich, G
» 2006: De De Dorsey, RB; Ryan LaCasse, DE
» 2007: Melvin Bullitt, S; Ramon Guzman, LB; Ed Johnson, DT
» 2008: Eric Foster, DT; Curtis Johnson, DE; Jordan Senn, LB
» 2009: Cody Glenn, LB; Ramon Humber, LB; Jacob Lacey, DB
» 2010: Brandon King, DB; Jeff Linkenbach, T
» 2011: Darren Evans, RB; Joe Lefeged, DB; Mike McNeill, TE; Adrian Moten, LB
» 2012: Dominique Jones, TE
» 2013: Jack Doyle, TE
» 2014: Jonotthan Harrison, C; Henoc Muamba, LB; Loucheiz Purifoy, CB; Zurlon Tipton, RB
» 2015: T.Y. McGill, DT; Tyler Varga, RB
» 2016: Matthias Farley, S; Josh Ferguson, RB; Curt Maggitt, LB; Chester Rogers, WR
» 2017: Deyshawn Bond, C; Darrell Daniels, TE; Kenny Moore II, CB; Rigoberto Sanchez, P
» 2018: Skai Moore, LB; George Odum, S
» 2019: Hale Hentges, TE
Get a look at the initial 53 man roster for the Indianapolis Colts going into the 2019 season.