INDIANAPOLIS — Mo Alie-Cox has taken the "next man up" mentality and run with it — quite literally.
When Dwayne Allen, the Indianapolis Colts' No. 1 tight end, went down with an ankle injury two weeks ago against the Houston Texans, the team needed Swoope — who at that point was yet to register a catch in his brief NFL career — to step it up and make some plays, and fast.
So early in the fourth quarter of that game, with every option initially covered, quarterback Andrew Luck dropped back and then scrambled around to his left and found Swoope on a dump pass, who was able to tip-toe down the sideline and then show off his speed to the tune of a 35-yard play, getting the Colts into Houston territory.
And since that play, Swoope's confidence — and the confidence of those around him — continues to grow significantly.
"When he is out there on the field, I don't look at him and think he is still developing. He is out there like anybody, to help this team win — and he is," Luck said this week of Swoope. "He is doing a heck of a job."
Swoope's story has been told many times, but it still stands to be repeated, due to the almost unprecedented nature he has found his way onto an NFL 53-man roster.
He was an athletic basketball player at the University of Miami when Colts general manager Ryan Grigson decided to bring him on board as a project, despite the fact Swoope had never played organized football up to that point of his life.
At 6-foot-5, Swoope certainly had the size to play the position, and he has since filled into a 257-pound frame to be able to better handle some of the more down-and-dirty demands of the position — like blocking 300-pound defensive linemen and the most athletic linebackers the game has to offer — but, understandably, he needed time, and lots of it, to get up to speed.
He spent much of his first two seasons in Indianapolis on the Colts' practice squad, at first just learning the basics of the game of football before he could get into any of the specifics. Slowly but surely, however, Swoope showed an ability to retain what he was learning and apply it on the practice field and in the meeting room, and on Dec. 30, 2015, he was signed to the team's active roster and participated in his first regular-season NFL game Week 17 against the Tennessee Titans, playing six snaps on offense and 15 snaps on special teams.
With Allen and Jack Doyle returning for the 2016 season — and with Coby Fleener departing in free agency — the Colts hoped Swoope could put in a solid offseason and emerge as their No. 3 tight end. He did just that, showing even more development and putting in a solid preseason (10 receptions, 103 yards) to win the No. 3 job going into Week 1.
"He's gotten better every single week," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said of Swoope Aug. 23. "He gets better every day at practice. He's producing in games. If you look at that position and you look who's there, he's making a case for himself. Not only as a tight end but in special teams he's doing a nice job."
Swoope earned his first-career start Week 2 against the Denver Broncos as part of a three tight end set to open the game, but saw his role increase significantly Week 6 against the Texans after Allen went down with an ankle injury, logging two total receptions on three targets for 42 yards.
With Allen's status "week-to-week," Swoope got his second start as the No. 2 tight end behind Doyle last Sunday against the Titans. In a must-win scenario for the Colts, both Doyle and Swoope shined, combining for 11 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown in their 36-26 win in Nashville.
Swoope had a career-high five targets, ending with two receptions for 51 yards, including a 34-yard reception early in the second quarter, and showing that he is "becoming a threat" in the Colts' passing game, Grigson said this week.
"The way he can adjust and the athleticism he displays is encouraging for us," Grigson said. "And he actually is making strides as a blocker. That's something that, off the film, that is most encouraging. Because he's here because you know that he can elevate, he can run, he's athletic, he's got a great body, but what he needs to be to be a complete player in this sport is to be able to block and do those things, and the light's really coming on."
Luck believes Swoope — whose three special teams tackles also rank fifth on the team — will only continue to "get better and better."
"He has grown as a football player so much in the two-plus years he has been here and he will keep getting better," Luck said. "He is helping this team and he is helping us now."
That's music to Swoope's ears. And with Allen out again Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, his role could continue to expand for a guy who had never even played a down of football prior to 2014.
"It's a real blessing, because, of course, a couple years back from now this wasn't even a conversation in my life," Swoope said. "So to have that opportunity to play with a quarterback like (Luck) and have him looking my way is just all the blessing to God."