Erik Swoope, Jack Doyle now prominent in Colts tight ends’ room
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The tight ends brought in to be part of the future as members of the great 2012 NFL Draft suddenly are part of the past.
Coby Fleener, the Indianapolis Colts’ second-round pick, caught passes last season from Drew Brees in New Orleans after being allowed to depart via free agency.
Dwayne Allen, the team’s third-rounder, will catch passes from Tom Brady in New England in 2017 after being traded away in March by first-time general manager Chris Ballard.
The Colts’ tight ends room now belongs Jack Doyle, who has evolved from undrafted prospect to possessor of a three-year, $18.9 million contract, and Erik Swoope, who has morphed from a power forward to a legitimate NFL tight end in three years.
Each is a feel-good story. From overlooked to worth watching. From complementary (Doyle) or developmental (Swoope) player to integral component in the Andrew Luck-led offense.
Ballard’s assessment of the position was made clear early. On March 7, the team re-invested in Doyle, making the Cathedral High School product the 16th-highest paid tight end in the league ($6.3 million per year). The next day, Allen was on his way to Foxborough, Mass.
The Colts also kept Swoope off the market by tendering the exclusive-rights free agent a one-year, $540,000 contract.
Consider it the latest and most significant step on Swoope’s gradual transition from power forward at the University of Miami to professional tight end.
“It’s been a real blessing to be able to do what I’ve done,’’ he said at the end of the 2016 season, before the seismic shift at his position. “This organization has trusted in me and allowed me time to develop and learn at my own pace.’’
Keep in mind, while then-general manager Ryan Grigson was adding an intriguing athlete to the roster in May 2014 – 6-5, 257 pounds, an appetite to learn – that athlete hadn’t played competitive football at any level.
Swoope had no clue how to get into a three-point stance. He had no idea a quarterback actually used a cadence to call a play.
“I thought it was, ‘Get set, go,’’’ he said.
And to drive home the point he was a football novice, Swoope insisted he wasn’t certain the number of players used on offense.
“To be fair, I didn’t know it was 11,’’ he said. “I just knew it was more than five. I knew it was more than basketball.’’
Yet his learning curve has been undeniably on the rise. From spending ’14 and the first 15 games of the following season on the practice squad, to being active for the final game of ’15 and taking 6 snaps on offense against the Tennessee Titans, to appearing in all 16 games last season, four as a starter.
As a starter, for cryin’ out loud. Even Swoope had to pinch himself on occasion.
“I know there were moments this year when I’m in my stance and I’m thinking, ‘Von Miller’s looking dead in my face,’’’ he said, smiling. “Or ‘I’m about to collide with Khalil Mack.’ The list goes on and on. You know, ‘This is a dude I never thought I’d be in the same room with, and now I’ve got to go attack him and make a play for Frank (Gore) or make a play for Andrew.’
“There was a lot of times I was sitting on the plane ride back home and I’m thinking, ‘Man, I just did that.’’’
Swoope’s initial contributions were relatively modest, but telling nonetheless. He contributed 15 receptions for 297 yards and one touchdown. But of his 15 receptions, four gained at least 30 yards. His 19.8 average gain ranked third in the NFL among players with at least 15 catches. Ahead of him: New England tight end Rob Gronkowski (21.6) and Pittsburgh wideout Sammie Coates (20.7).
The Colts believe there’s so much more growth in Swoope’s game.
“You see the ability, you see the talent, you see the work ethic, you see the toughness, you see the want-to,’’ offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. “Any time you have those things with a player, with a person, they are going to be successful down the road.
“He is going to be successful. He is going to figure it out.’’
Marcus Pollard has traveled the path Swoope is on. He was a power forward at Bradley who was signed in 1995 by then-general manager Bill Tobin as a tight end-wannabe.
Pollard watched, learned, developed and excelled. He played 10 years for the Colts and among tight ends ranks third with 263 receptions and fourth with 3,391 yards and 35 touchdowns.
Pollard now is the Jacksonville Jaguars director of player development, and was at Lucas Oil Stadium Jan. 1 when the Colts hosted the Jaguars in their season finale.
When the topic of Swoope was broached, Pollard smiled.
“He reminds me of me,’’ Pollard said.
Swoope met Pollard in ’14, and has since done a little research on him.
“He did some great things for this organization,’’ he said. “I know he did not play football in college. I know he was a basketball player. And I know he and Dallas Clark were an awesome tandem.
“He’s somebody to aspire to be like.’’