With a 6-foot-5, 260 pound frame, fluid athleticism and natural feel for football, second-year tight end Drew Ogletree has always oozed upside. And while it's still early in the 2023 season, Ogletree is showing signs of making good on his potential of being, as he put it, a "real" NFL tight end.
"You see his growth every day," tight ends coach Tom Manning said. "I think that's what's exciting about a good player already — you see him working at his craft and becoming better each day, which is a testament to him."
With veteran tight end Mo Alie-Cox exiting the Colts' Week 5 win over the Tennessee Titans with a concussion, Ogletree took on a bigger role in the team's offense as Sunday's game progressed. He played a career high 40 snaps – up from 28 snaps in each of the Colts' prior two games – and, notably, was tasked with run blocking on 26 of those plays.
Ogletree earned a strong 78.6 run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus, and going back and watching tape, it's easy to see why.
One example: On second-and-6 just before the second half's two-minute warning, Ogletree lined up in a three-point stance with Titans Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons shaded over his left shoulder. At the snap, Ogletree engaged with the 6-foot-4, 305 pound Simmons on the back side of the play, slowing his pursuit to the play side while left guard Quenton Nelson cleared a hole for running back Zack Moss. Moss darted through the hole for a gain of 13, with Simmons getting to him late.
Had Simmons quickly defeated Ogletree on the play, he might've had an opportunity to slide to his right and meet Moss in the hole, likely setting up a third down just inside the Titans' 30-yard line. Instead, Moss ripped off an explosive run and gave the Colts a fresh set of downs; a few plays later, Matt Gay connected on a 28-yard field goal to put the Colts up by seven with a minute left.
Plays like that from Ogletree didn't go unnoticed.
"Sometimes in situations, just die a slow death," center Ryan Kelly said. "Give the running back enough time to get in there."
"Tree was in the trenches against some really good players, we talked about how good that front is that the Titans have," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. "That was true to form, those guys were as tough as advertised. Tree was in there fighting with them. A lot of times at the tight end position, sometimes you're one-on-one with a guy that is a little bit bigger than you and you're fighting to control some space or control a gap as we call it. Tree fought the good fight there. Tree was competing as well as we can hope he would – it was really encouraging to see."
The first two things a tight end needs when it comes to blocking, Manning said, are the willingness and toughness to do it. If a player possesses those two traits, then you move on to improving his technique. Ogletree has the willingness and toughness, and Manning said he's a naturally gifted blocker when it comes to technique – and also is putting in the required work to continue getting better at those fundamentals.
"He has the ability to block as a tight end," Manning said. "Those are the guys that are hard to find. Those are the guys that can do a lot for your offense with great versatility. He's grown in both aspects of it and he's become a more well-rounded player."
When Ogletree said he's working toward being a "real" tight end, he meant working toward being able to play out of both a two-point (standing up) and three-point (hand in the dirt) stance. Ogletree spent this last offseason tailoring chunks of his training to being in that three-point stance, which as a former wide receiver has been a bigger transition than for someone who grew up playing tight end.
"When I look at being a tight end, I look at George Kittle," Ogletree said of the four-time Pro Bowl San Francisco 49ers tight end. "He can block, he can run routes — he can do it all. That's what I want to view myself as. I want to be able to put my hand in the dirt and block, and be able to stand up and run routes."
Ogletree's versatility is starting to show, too, through his seven catches for 95 yards with a touchdown this season. Six of those seven receptions have gone for first downs, and three have carved out over 20 yards.
But the Colts knew Ogletree could make an impact as a receiver as soon as 2022's training camp, when he was one of Grand Park's most impressive players before a torn ACL ended his rookie season before it could begin. A large part of the difficultly young, in-line tight ends often face in the NFL lies in run blocking – if you can't do it, your presence on the field becomes either a liability to the offense (if it's a running play) or a giveaway to the defense (that it's a passing play).
In Week 5, the Colts were able to trust Ogletree to do both. And going forward, the Colts' trust in Ogletree to both block and catch will continue to grow with games like he had against the Titans.
"He was powerful at the point of attack," head coach Shane Steichen said. "He's doing a little bit of everything for us right now – catching and blocking. But he keeps progressing every week. Obviously, he came off that injury a year ago and then attacked training camp. You can see the progression with him just continuing to get better every time."
Thursday's practice report: