INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July upon us, and the start of training camp now within sight, it's time for the Indianapolis Colts' Burning Questions series.
We continue today with the tight end position:
» Can Trey Burton help replace what the Colts will be missing from Eric Ebron?
The Colts this offseason decided to part ways with tight end Eric Ebron, who eventually signed a free-agent deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ebron had become a major part of Indy's passing game the last two seasons, logging a combined 97 receptions for 1,125 yards and 16 receiving touchdowns, a good chunk of which occurring during his 2018 Pro Bowl campaign. So while the Colts knew they were going to be returning Jack Doyle, who is coming off his second Pro Bowl selection, and the athletic Mo Alie-Cox, the team still needed another weapon at the tight end position. On April 22, they got their guy in veteran Trey Burton, who has familiarity with head coach Frank Reich, his offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016 and 2017, and brings a solid all-around game as both a pass catcher and as a blocker. In six previous seasons with the Eagles and the Chicago Bears, Burton has 131 receptions for 1,282 yards and 12 touchdowns, and while he's working his way back from December hip surgery, he's expected to quickly become a featured target down the field. While Ebron was more of a wide receiver in a tight end's body, Burton's versatility should prove to fit right in.
» How could Philip Rivers' past experiences help a guy like Mo Alie-Cox?
In 2003, Antonio Gates, a star college basketball player at Kent State University who never played a down of college football, was signed by the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent. Fifteen years later, Gates had put a bow on a career that included eight Pro Bowl and three First-Team All-Pro selections, as well as a spot on the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. And who was the guy throwing him the football for a majority of his career? None other than Philip Rivers. And now, Rivers has another Gates-like player to throw to in Alie-Cox, who, like Gates, was a standout college basketball player at VCU and never played a down of college football, but whose athletic abilities were too much for NFL teams to ignore getting a chance to mold into a playmaking tight end. Alie-Cox is entering his third full season in 2020, and has 15 receptions for 226 yards and two touchdowns to his credit — numbers that could very well increase dramatically if he's able to quickly build a rapport with his new quarterback, much like Gates with Rivers almost 15 years ago.
» Could the Colts utilize even more three tight end sets?
The Colts last season utilized their "13" personnel group — which includes one running back, three tight ends and one wide receiver — on 7.2 percent of their offensive plays, according to NFL.com, the fourth-highest figure in the league. But could that number be even higher in 2020? Think about it: with three solid blocking tight ends in Doyle, Burton and Alie-Cox, the Colts could really get opposing defenses in a tizzy with those guys all on the field at the same time, as all three are also solid in the passing game and create potential mismatches across the board for Rivers to exploit. Imagine a 3rd-and-3 situation; the Colts obviously have the run game to pick up that yardage and move the chains, but if they have all three tight ends on the field for that play, then that opens up all sorts of other options for Reich to dial up.