INDIANAPOLIS — “Who’s that guy?”
If you said that to yourself when you saw No. 43 making a couple nice plays for the Indianapolis Colts last Thursday night, you weren’t alone.
Ross Travis totally gets it. At 6 foot 7 and 235 pounds — and wearing such an odd number for a pass catcher, even for a tight end — he realizes he can stick out like a sore thumb at times, especially as the new guy in the Colts’ offense.
But it’s Travis’ hope that he can keep on sticking out to Colts fans — and continue making a positive impact to close out the final two games of the regular season and into the offseason.
“I’m out here working every day trying to be the best player I can be,” Travis said this week. “Just trying to help the team as much as I can next year and the remaining games of this year.”
Travis’ path to the NFL hasn’t necessarily been uncommon, especially to the Colts. A basketball player at Penn State, Travis, who last played organized football his freshman year in high school, was recruited to work out in front of some NFL scouts after his college career had wrapped up.
Though he was not picked up in the 2015 NFL Draft, Travis caught the attention of Chris Ballard, who at the time was the Director of Football Operations for the Kansas City Chiefs. Ballard saw a long, quick, athletic prospect in Travis who could potentially turn into a matchup nightmare at the tight end position if he put in the necessary work to get there.
Travis spent most of his first NFL season on the Chiefs’ practice squad before getting a chance to play in his first six career games — with three starts — last season, logging three catches for 15 yards. This year, he had played in 11 games with three starts, in Kansas City, and had caught five passes for 43 yards when the team decided to waive him.
Now in his first season as the Colts’ general manager, Ballard was quick to swoop in, and claimed Travis the very next day.
“Yeah, it feels good – somebody that knows your style of play. I am fortunate that he brought me in,” Travis said when asked about Ballard’s confidence in him. “I’m very thankful. He was there my first year in K.C. (Kansas City). He got to see me run around on the field on the scout team against the Chiefs defense. He kind of knows my game. I’m just happy to be here.”
Travis would be targeted a couple times in the Colts’ Week 14 blizzard game against the Buffalo Bills, but did not log any catches. But last Thursday against the Denver Broncos, with a little bit better footing on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf, quarterback Jacoby Brissett found Travis twice for 33 total yards, including a 20-yard reception in the second quarter.
“He’s one of those mismatch guys that you can move around, get him out in space and he’s long and athletic,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said of Travis. “(He’s) got a huge catch radius. He can run; he’s deceptively fast. He understands coverage, can find a way to get open, so he’s an interesting guy moving forward. I’m glad we have him.”
The Colts had hoped to have another converted college basketball player, Mo Alie-Cox, be their mismatch-type weapon at the tight end position this year after he playing his first full NFL season in 2016, but Swoope underwent a knee scope and was placed on IR before the start of the regular season. Although the team brought Swoope back to practice a few weeks ago with the hope he could return to the lineup, his knee just didn’t get to 100 percent in enough time, and the Colts had to revert him to IR for the remainder of the season.
So now, at least for these last couple games of the year, the Colts’ offense can see just what it has in Travis, who feels “the sky is the limit” if he continues to put in the work.
“Fortunately, for me, I got to work under guys like Travis Kelce in Kansas City. It was the best situation I could have been in – he’s an athletic tight end,” Travis said. “Even in the offseason, I got to train with Tony G (Tony Gonzalez) out there in Cali (California), so I’ve got some great mentors around me. To me, in my mind, the sky is the limit.”