With Jack Doyle out, Eric Ebron must maintain breakout season

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INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 25: Eric Ebron #85 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the game against Miami Dolphins in the first quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 25, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – They were the oddest of couples.

Jack Doyle: the quiet Colts tight end.

Eric Ebron: the, well, non-quiet Colts’ tight end.

“Totally different personalities,’’ Ebron said Tuesday, nodding at the notion Doyle is the more restrained of the two. “And I’m going to talk a lot. It’s great. It’s kind of like me and my wife. She don’t say much. I talk all the time. That’s kind of how it works. (Doyle) understands it.

“I’m always going to be outgoing. Always been. Little kid, fresh out of the womb, I’m gonna talk. Class clown. That’s me.’’

Now, one’s been silenced for the rest of the season and the other must jabber on, probably with a larger target on his chest.

Doyle’s season ended Monday when the Indianapolis Colts placed him on the injured reserve list. The former Cathedral H.S. standout suffered a kidney injury in Sunday’s win over Miami, necessitating hospitalization, surgery and time away from a violent sport.

Ebron was back at work Tuesday, minus his low-key teammate.

“It’s been a rough season on him,’’ he said of Doyle. “More heartfelt, more hurt because of the type of player he is and what he means to this organization and team.

“That’s my guy. I love him.’’

Ebron made it a point to talk with Doyle after learning of Doyle’s season-ending injury.

“Just told him I appreciate everything he’s done for me this year as a big brother, as a guy that’s been around,’’ he said. “He’s been around the game a year more than I have, but he’s a lot older than I am.’’

Doyle is 28 and in his sixth season. Ebron, 25, is in his fifth season.

“A lot of maturity things that he’s put staples into my life,’’ Ebron said. “He’s been a big help.

“He doesn’t say a lot, but he means a lot. Losing somebody like that, it’s going to be hard. I’m not quite the leader he is and the way he leads, but hopefully I can fill the void for him.’’

Doyle has emerged as one of the league’s most complete tight ends. He earned his first Pro Bowl nod a year ago on the strength of a career-high 80 receptions, the second-most by a Colts’ tight end. Doyle also has developed into a solid blocker.

“Make no mistake, it’s going to be hard to replace what Jack Doyle brings to a football team,’’ offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “Everybody’s role will change a little bit based on one of your better players going down.

“Everyone’s going to be asked to step up in different ways they weren’t asked to in the past because Jack filled that role.’’

Ebron’s supporting cast heading into Sunday’s meeting with the Jaguars in Jacksonville remains uncertain. The other three tight ends on the roster were inactive last Sunday against Miami because of injuries: Erik Swoope (knee), Mo Alie-Cox (ankle) and Ryan Hewitt (ankle).

“All their roles will change a little bit,’’ Sirianni said. “They’ll all be Jack-by-committee.’’

If the available personnel allows, Ebron’s role primarily will be that of playmaker. But his playing time most certainly will increase. It has to without Doyle by his side.

Excluding Sunday’s game when Doyle missed the bulk of the fourth quarter, Ebron’s workload has fluctuated on Doyle’s availability. In the five games Doyle missed with a hip injury, Ebron was on the field for 73 percent of the offensive snaps. In the five games with Doyle, Ebron has been on the field 34 percent of the time.

The coaching staff prefers to keep Ebron as fresh as possible, which maximizes his ability to make plays that can turn a game.

“Eric’s thrived in the role that he’s had and we don’t want to get him off that routine too much,’’ Sirianni said. “But it’ll change.’’

How might it change?

“I don’t know,’’ Ebron said. “He’s been out for five games before. Probably just go back to the same thing. We practice tomorrow so we’ll figure it out.

“It kind of fixes your mindset that you’ve just got to be ready to take on a heftier load. We’ve been there before.’’

Exceeding expectations

Whatever goals Ebron set at the beginning of the season have been exceeded. He caught two more touchdown passes against Miami, pushing his total to 11. That tied Dallas Clark’s single-season club record by a tight end (set in 2007), and is tied with Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown for the most in the league by a player at any position.

“I’m way beyond my touchdown goal,’’ Ebron said. “Now it’s all about helping us win and things of that nature. I fulfilled things most people didn’t think were possible.

“Touchdowns will come. Yards will come. Catches will come. These wins are hard, man. That’s all I’m really focused on.’’

Perhaps, but don’t think for a second Ebron isn’t aware of the rarified air he’s breathing.

“Yeah, because of you guys,’’ he said with a laugh. “Now I’m more aware of it because of how high the number has gotten.’’

Tying Clark?

“Yeah, that’s cool,’’ Ebron admitted.

And at this rate, Marvin Harrison’s single-season team mark of 15 is within reach.

“Let’s get it,’’ he said with a smile.

For added perspective to Erbon’s first season in Indy, consider the short list of Colts who have had at least 11 touchdown catches in a season: Harrison (seven times), Raymond Berry, Reggie Wayne, Clark, Roger Carr and Jimmy Orr.

And then there’s this. In Detroit, Ebron had 11 touchdown catches in four seasons, 56 games and 186 receptions. With the Colts, his 11 have come on 44 receptions and in 11 games.

“It’s crazy,’’ Ebron said. “My coach told me that today. He was like, ‘You know you’re catching a touchdown every four catches?’ I go, ‘Wow. I never expected that.’ He said, ‘That’s insane.’’’

Sirianni and the Colts vetted Ebron before signing him to a two-year, $15 million contract. They were especially diligent in assessing his reputation for dropping passes.

“I did see good hands,’’ Sirianni said. “I saw a guy who needed to refine some things as far as concentration, confidence. We knew he could make plays. We knew he had some drops, too.

“But we saw the ability that he had outweigh the concern of the drops. It’s just Eric gaining confidence in his ability as a playmaker.’’

So much of Ebron’s game, Sirianni insisted, hinges on that confidence.

“The more he’s made plays, the better he’s gotten,’’ he said. “I just think Eric thrives on confidence, I really do.

“The guys believe in him. Most importantly, the quarterback and Frank (Reich) believes in him, myself (included). And I think he’s thrived off of that.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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