THE TIGHT ENDS

Dallas Clark caught 100 passes last season, but in discussing the team's tight end position, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said Clark can have a successful season without again reaching that plateau.

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Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell Discusses the Team's Tight Ends Position

INDIANAPOLIS – Dallas Clark said he won't measure himself this season by numbers, necessarily.

And Jim Caldwell said he's fine with that.

Because while Clark, the Colts' Pro Bowl tight end, may not catch 100 passes this season as he did last, Caldwell – entering his second season as the Colts' head coach – said it's equally true that Clark typically contributes to the Colts' offense in far more ways than catches.

He's versatile. He's reliable.

He continues to improve each season.

And Caldwell said those aren't even the only reasons Clark remains a key not only to the Colts' tight end position, but the entire offense and entire team.

"He does a lot for us – even, sometimes, without the ball in his hand," Caldwell said of Clark recently in an interview for this story on the Colts' tight ends, part of a position-by-position series scheduled to run on Colts.com this month.

"Sometimes, the most critical things he does are without the ball, in terms of his pass-blocking and his run-blocking. He's an exceptional route-runner, and as a big-play guy, he has just been outstanding for us."

Caldwell said that has been true of Clark for some time.

But this past season, in which he had his biggest statistical season, was the first time he had been widely honored for his play.

Clark, who caught 58 passes for 616 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2007, followed that with 77 receptions for 848 yards and six touchdowns in 2008. Yet, he was not named to the Pro Bowl in either season. He said during past seasons and during much of this past season that while he once was bothered by not playing in the post-season All-Star game, he had stopped worrying about such things.

Worried or not, he left no doubt this past season.

Clark, a first-round selection in the 2003 NFL Draft from the University of Iowa, caught 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns, with the 100 receptions the second-highest single-season total for a tight end in NFL history. It also was the most-decorated season of Clark's career, with him being named to the AFC Pro Bowl team as a starter, the Sing News NFL All-Pro Team and the Associated Press All-Pro Team.

"There are probably a number of veterans you can point to, just kind of look at the seasons they've had," Caldwell said. "You see them continue to get better. Our team reflects that as well, but Dallas is one of those individuals who doesn't rest on his laurels. He comes back and works just as hard as he ever worked.

"He practices with a great amount of enthusiasm, and loves what he does. I think you'll see his effectiveness continue to increase."

Clark said during the Colts' recent organized team activities that he won't necessarily be concerned with having his statistics this season meet those from last season, the reason being 100 receptions for a tight end in the NFL is difficult to reach even for a player having a standout season.

Caldwell said that is a proper approach, and that it is very possible for Clark to improve this season without duplicating a 100-reception season.

"I don't think you look at like 100 catches is a milestone for an effective season," Caldwell said. "There's more that goes into it than that."

Caldwell said the team likes the situation at tight end aside from Clark, speaking highly during OTAs of rookie Brody Eldridge not only as a run-blocker, but potentially as a pass receiver.

"He is a good athlete, first of all," Caldwell said of Eldridge. "That is the first thing that jumps out at you. He's got athleticism, balance and he's got good hands. You couple that with the fact that he's a guy that certainly understands his way around the in-line blocking and things of that nature because he is a good, solid guy on the line of scrimmage. He blends talent and athleticism, toughness and being able to catch the ball all in one. He's coming along well. . . .

"He had a very, very good spring – good grasp of things. He has good body control. He didn't catch many passes at Oklahoma, but he's capable."

Gijon Robinson, a third-year veteran, started at H-back for a second consecutive season in 2009, catching nine passes for 62 yards, and for a second consecutive season, Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi – fourth- and sixth-round selections, respectively, in the 2008 NFL Draft – also played a role at the spot.

Santi, after starting the season on the practice squad, played in three games and caught eight passes for 107 yards before finishing the season on injured reserve with a back injury. Tamme developed into one of the Colts' top special teams players, catching three passes for 35 yards and making 13 special teams tackles.

Colin Cloherty, who signed with the Colts shortly after the 2009 NFL Draft, finished the season on the active roster. He caught a pass in the regular-season finale against Buffalo, his first NFL appearance.

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