INDIANAPOLIS – Opportunity in the NFL comes in the blink of an eye. Sometimes that blink occurs in a situation that is not beneficial for all but when it happens, a teammate must step up.
Tight end Jacob Tamme was that person in 2010 when starter Dallas Clark left the lineup with a wrist injury around mid-season.
A one-game starter in 28 career appearances prior to 2010, Tamme had not had an extended period with the first unit. He had toiled primarily on special teams.
Tamme thrived in the opportunity by snaring 67 receptions over the final 10 games, a total that topped the NFL. With Clark (lower leg) and Brody Eldridge (hand) likely out this week, Tamme is ready to move in again.
"It's always part of what can happen in an NFL game," said Tamme of the injuries last week to Clark and Eldridge. "It's the same thing moving forward, and (I am) just waiting to see what the situation is and prepare like I do every week. It's the same for the rest of the squad, and we'll be ready to go come Sunday."
Until this week, the club's tight end position had been one of the least affected units in terms of injuries. With Clark and Eldridge injured and with a return time table being uncertain, Indianapolis on Tuesday added two more tight ends to the active roster, Mike McNeill and Anthony Hill.
It is Tamme, however, who could play the most prominent role on Sunday. With the experience he gained last year, he believes he can carry that forward as he is on the field again.
"Last year I didn't really have even as much of a role offensively as I do now," said Tamme. "It was really an adjustment where I have kept myself ready and was ready to go and stepped in and did some good things. This year, hopefully, we'll get the whole tight end position healthy here. If we don't, we'll go with it. I'll be preparing hard this week, and I will be ready to step in and make plays."
With less experience last year, Tamme found plays available in the offense. Tamme made his first start in a pivotal division battle against Houston on November 1. His two-yard touchdown reception that opened the scoring in an eventual 30-17 Colts win was among his six receptions. The victory helped avenge a season-opening loss to the Texans and kept Indianapolis alive in the divisional title hunt.
He had 11 receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown at Philadelphia and followed with seven more catches against Cincinnati. Tamme would catch no fewer than four passes in each of the club's remaining seven games, finishing with 67 receptions for 631 yards and four touchdowns. It marked the third-highest seasonal reception total ever by a Colts tight end, behind only Clark's totals in 2008 and 2009 (100, 77). His 11 receptions at Philadelphia marked the third-most ever in a single-game by a Colts tight end. Tamme also started the club's Wild Card game against the New York Jets, catching five more passes.
Last year, Tamme had Peyton Manning directing the offense. Curtis Painter is at the offensive controls now and feels comfortable with Tamme in the attack.
"Last year was a very similar situation in the sense the that Dallas went out during the season and Jacob came in and did a great job throughout the season," said Painter. "We've been seeing him make plays since then. He's always done a good job when needed stepping in there, even this year as well."
Wide receiver Austin Collie made the most of his role in the offense early in his career, and he sees Tamme now having a second opportunity to contribute. When asked what to expect from Tamme, Collie predicts good things.
"(We will see) the same thing we see every week (from him)," said Collie. "Jacob Tamme is a very talent player for us. Obviously, his role's increased with the injuries that we've had. If anything, from last year he's shown us that he can handle it (the opportunity) and he can be a difference-maker on the field."
Collie is an intense worker on the practice field, and it shows up in game performance. He was asked to rank Tamme's work ethic on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being fastidious.
"He's a 10. The guy is a special teams stud, a special teams guru," said Collie. "You see him out there on specials teams and he gives his all. It's no different on the offensive side of the ball."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell saw Tamme move into the playing opportunity last year and excel in the chance to play. Indianapolis battled injuries last season and fell from 6-3 to 6-6, and needed a late-season push to win the division and make the playoffs. Tamme was a component to the play, and Caldwell likes his abilities.
"He's one of those guys who doesn't seem like he ever gets tired, first of all," said Caldwell. "He runs all day. He does a great job in terms of his preparation. He participates on all of our specials teams and, typically, is all over the field. Obviously in this particular case when Dallas is out, he's going to carry quite a load. He works hard. (He's) very, very smart. (He) does a great job in terms of his preparation and study. He also does a good job in setting a good tone with leadership."
Hill, 6-6, 278, was a fourth-round pick by Houston in 2009 NFL Draft. He played in five games as a rookie and had one reception before being released this year. Hill had been on the Philadelphia practice squad until signing with Indianapolis on Tuesday. The North Carolina State product was a second-team All-ACC choice as a sophomore.
McNeill, 6-4, 235, was signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent prior to camp. He had special teams duty in the opener at Houston and has served on the Indianapolis practice squad since then.