Young Tight End Trio Ready to Contribute Sunday, Clark Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Tom Santi doesn't know the situation, exactly.
Santi said he and the rest of the Colts' tight ends must prepare as if six-year veteran tight end Dallas Clark will not play in the team's second regular-season game Sunday and hope that he will.
Clark, who sustained a knee injury in the Colts' season-opening loss to the Chicago Bears this past Sunday, said Wednesday he didn't know if he will play when the Colts play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and as of Thursday, his status was still uncertain.
Whatever the situation, Santi said this much he does know:
If Clark doesn't play, he will be ready.
And so will the Colts' other available tight ends.
"That's how the NFL is," Santi said as the Colts (0-1), the five-time defending AFC South champions, prepared to play the Vikings (0-1) in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn., Sunday at 1 p.m.
"You never know who's going to be up or down which week. You have to prepare the same way every time. We'll just continue to do that and do whatever we're called upon to do."
Santi, a rookie from the University of Virginia, is one of three players who could play extensively should Clark not play Sunday, and although it's a relatively inexperienced group, Clark said it's one capable of playing effectively.
Tamme, a fourth-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft from the University of Kentucky, played extensively in the preseason, leading the Colts with 10 receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns. He caught one pass for six yards against Chicago. He missed practice Thursday with an ankle injury.
"It means all of us will have to pick up the slack a little bit," Tamme said. "We have to get in there and make some plays when we get a chance."
Gijon Robinson, who spent last season on the Colts' practice squad, started as an H-back with Clark starting at tight end against Chicago in the Colts' two-tight end offense. Although Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said this past offseason Robinson's strength upon joining the Colts was as a blocker, he said Robinson has progressed as a receiver, catching eight passes for 85 yards during the preseason.
Santi, a sixth-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, missed much of training camp and the preseason with an infected bursa sac. He also missed the regular-season opener.
"I think they're very prepared," Clark said. "It's a chance for them to really get a good week of preparation and just get a full sense of, 'This could happen.' I have nothing but confidence and I know the coaches have the same feeling – that they're going to be ready to play.
"I know Tom Santi is really looking forward to it. He has been battling that injury, similar to (that of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning), and I know he's really tickled and just really excited to get out there. He has shown so much promise during OTAs (offseason organized team activities) and summer school. He had that freak infection, so he's looking forward to it.
"Gijon is helping him and I'm helping him, and obviously Jacob is improving every day. They can do a lot of good things, so this is a big challenge for them."
Tamme, who played in a pass-oriented offense at Kentucky, said he believes a summer of training camp and summer school has made him as prepared for the situation as possible.
"I feel very ready," he said. "It's been a great summer and a great camp. I got a lot of experience in the preseason. That prepares you for something like this. Whenever Dall gets back, he'll be back, but for now, we've got to all pick up the slack.
"You never want somebody to go down in a game, but you always want to be ready for that to happen. When Dall had to come out, I got to get in and get a little experience. Gijon, myself and Tom have all been working hard and it's great to get an opunity to play.
"As soon as Dall gets back, that will be great for the team as well. We're ready to step up and get in there and make some plays."
Of Clark, Tamme said, "He's a veteran leader, so you lose a little bit of that veteran experience, but we've got some guys who are capable. We're confident about getting in there and getting the job done. We just have to keep working hard because when you're Dallas, you have a lot of experience.
"We don't have as much experience, but as long as we keep working every day in practice, we'll be all right."
Santi, who caught one pass for 22 yards in the preseason, did not play in the opener, but said he feels ready for the opportunity.
"You never want to see a guy like Dallas be out," Santi said. "Somebody's going to have to step up and I'm excited about the opportunity to do it. Sometimes that's how it happens and that's football. It's, 'Next Man Up' and you just have to be prepared and be ready to do it.
"I'll be prepared. I'll be ready to go and be ready to do everything I can to do everything I'm called upon to do. It's been a rocky start for me personally, but I'm ready to strap it up and get after it. I wish I could have had a little more continuous work rather than having that big space in between, but that's part of it. Injuries are part of it. I just have to get back and be ready to my job."
The Colts, since the 1998 arrival of Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore, have utilized the tight end as extensively as any team in the NFL, often employing a versatile two tight-end scheme. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Marcus Pollard and Ken Dilger formed one of the NFL's best tight end combinations, and after that, Pollard and Clark formed a solid team.
From 2005-2007, Clark, Ben Utecht and Bryan Fletcher made up the Colts' tight end group, and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said this week the absence of Clark – who he calls "irreplaceable in the team's offensive scheme – still shouldn't alter the approach of the offense.
"You have no choice but to go on," Manning said. "We tried to address some guys to play the same position as Dallas in the draft. That's why we drafted Santi and Tamme. I think Dallas is irreplaceable because of his versatility, but you still have to be able to do those same formations and the same personnel groups in order to execute your offense, so we sure hope he can go this weekend, but if not, those other guys are going to have to grow up on a hurry and play fast, which has been normal for a lot of young players around here.
"There's not a whole lot of grooming process here. We pretty much throw them to the fire early and I think both of those guys have worked hard. They understand the offense I think they'll do fine."
Said Robinson, "The tight end is always important in this offense. We pretty much just have to listen to Peyton Manning, whatever he tells us to do, and our coaches, whatever they tell us to do, and make sure we execute.
"That way, we can still keep the value of the tight end to this offense."