Colts training camp preview: Tight ends

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Dwayne Allen #83 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates a second quarter touchdown against the Denver Broncos during a 2015 AFC Divisional Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 11, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The next step in the Indianapolis Colts’ bid to put an unfulfilling 2015 season behind them comes Tuesday when they report to Anderson University for the start of training camp.

Over the next several days, we’ll take a positional look at how they’ve positioned themselves not only to challenge for the AFC South title, but a possible run at Super Bowl 51.

Today we focus on the tight ends.

Starter: Dwayne Allen

Backup: Jack Doyle.

Potential depth: Erik Swoope, Mike Miller, Darion Griswold, Emil Igwenagu.

  • DA’s the man: Allen followed Coby Fleener since the 2012 NFL draft. Fleener was the Colts’ second-round pick while Allen followed in round 3, 30 slots later. Fleener was Mr. Durable for four seasons, missing only four of 70 games overall. Injuries forced Allen to miss 23 games during his first four seasons, including 16 in ’13 following hip surgery. Fleener’s four-year stat line (183 receptions, 2,154 yards, 17 touchdowns) dwarfs Allen’s (91, 1,045, 13).

Yet when it came time to re-sign one of them in March, the Colts opted for Allen. The four-year, $29.4 million contract reflected the team’s belief Allen, clearly the more complete of the two, would maintain his health.

Coach Chuck Pagano stressed “what he brings to the table. You look around the league and he meets all the requirements that we are going to ask of our starting tight end. He’s one of the better blockers in the league. We know when healthy he can be a mismatch. He’s a big body that can make plays.’’

Allen did his best to keep his frustrations in check last season as his contributions steadily diminished. While Fleener remained a viable option in the passing game (54 receptions, 491 yards, three TDs), Allen was used more as an end-line blocker to help shore up a substandard offensive line.

That should change now that he’s the feature tight end.

“The Colts made it very clear this is where they wanted me to be,’’ he said. “And of course this is where I wanted to be.

“I want to be the best tight end whenever Sept. 11 starts. That is the way I’m wired.’’

  • He’s No. 2: We’ll hear the normal coach-speak that training camp competition will determine who fits where on the depth chart at various positions, but let’s not kid ourselves, Doyle sits in the backup tight end’s chair.

While the former Cathedral High School star has earned that distinction with three workmanlike seasons, he’s also the only viable candidate. Miller and Griswold are rookies. Swoope’s experience consists of 21 snaps, just six on offense, in the final game of ’15. He’s developed on the practice squad the past two seasons. Igwenagu, signed earlier this week, has appeared in three games, all in 2012 with Philadelphia.

Again, Doyle is the logical and legitimate choice to work as Allen’s primary backup, especially with Fleener’s departure. Along with being a solid blocker, he’s reliable in the short passing game (35 catches, 209 yards, three TDs).

“It was tough to see Coby go and I wish him the best,’’ Doyle said. “I’m just excited for the opportunity and I know Dwayne is as well.

“We’re trying to hold up our end.’’

The Colts retained Doyle this offseason with a one-year, $1.671 million restricted free-agent contract. It was a nice payday for someone claimed off waivers in September 2013. In his first three seasons, Doyle earned a total of $1.485 million.

“It’s gone fast, it really has,’’ Doyle said of his stint with the Colts. “I’m just coming in here every day and trying to work hard. You’ve got to be a little lucky with staying healthy. You just try to stay available.

“I take a lot of pride in being able to do a lot of different things.’’

  • Worth noting: While injuries and the extensive blocking responsibilities last season have impacted Allen’s contributions, no one should doubt his ability to make a difference. His 45 receptions and 521 yards in 2012 led all rookie tight ends. The receptions were a franchise record for a rookie tight end. In ’14, Allen and Fleener became the first tight end teammates to post at least eight touchdowns in the same season.