INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A legitimate question as Andrew Luck considers so many of his passing-game options heading into the Indianapolis Colts’ latest must-win game:
Who are these guys?
We’ll find out Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
The mid-week indication points to Luck possibly being without three of his top five receivers and definitely his top tight end. Donte Moncrief remains week-to-week with a fractured left scapula, Phillip Dorsett didn’t practice Wednesday and is day-to-day with a hamstring injury and Quan Bray was placed on IR with a fractured ankle.
The tight end? Dwayne Allen addressed the media Wednesday after using crutches to reach his cubicle in the locker room. He also is week-to-week after spraining his right ankle in Sunday’s loss at Houston.
To fall back on one of Chuck Pagano’s pet phrases: So what? Now what?
“That’s how this league is,’’ he said. “Everybody has injuries.’’
And everybody has to adjust, compensate, carry on.
That’s especially true with Luck. He’s developed chemistry and trust with T.Y. Hilton, Moncrief and Dorsett through countless repetitions that began with the offseason conditioning program in April.
His work with Hilton’s expected cohorts Sunday – Chester Rogers, Tevaun Smith and Devin Street – is limited. Rogers and Smith are rookies. Street was signed off New England’s practice squad Sept. 21.
“Yeah, there is a level of uncertainty, absolutely, with some of the guys,’’ Luck conceded Wednesday. “You have to build that relationship. It doesn’t happen overnight.
“There is a level of uncertainty and you’ve got to overcome that through practice and in the game.’’
A quick look at possible Colts receivers against Tennessee not named Hilton:
- Chester Rogers: A rookie out of Grambling. He’s emerged as Luck’s second option among receivers during Moncrief’s absence, which doesn’t speak highly of Dorsett. In the last two games, Rogers has nine receptions for 126 yards while being targeted 16 times.“Those game reps with Chester are so valuable,’’ Luck said. “There’s certainly a trust factor there. I’ve thought this about him from very early on: he’s a fighter and wants to get that football.’’
- Tevaun Smith: A rookie out of Iowa. He was added to the active roster from the practice squad after Bray’s season-ending ankle injury.
- Devin Street: Inactive for four games since being signed off New England’s practice squad last month. In two seasons with Dallas, he managed nine receptions for 132 yards and one TD.
The rash of injuries in the receivers room means more focus and pressure on Hilton. Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau undoubtedly will do whatever it takes to limit his contributions.
“There’s no pressure for me,’’ argued Hilton. “I’ve just got to go out there and take what the defense gives me. If they’re doubling me, the other guys are just going to have to make plays. If they’re not, then I’ll make a play.
“I expect to get double-teamed, take me out of the game and make other guys beat ‘em. I’ve just got to go out there and control what I can control. For them, just go out there and play. If guys stick to you man-to-man, they should take that as disrespect and just go out there and beat them.’’
What’s most bothersome about a heavier load falling on Hilton’s shoulders is the frustrating roller coaster he’s ridden through the first six weeks. Consider his per-game yardage output: 79, 41, 174, 42, 171, 49.
And Allen’s injury further complicates matters. Instead of Luck being able to weave a pair of proven tight ends into the offense – that means the passing game, pass protection and run blocking – he’s left with Jack Doyle, without question the team’s brightest star thus far, Erik Swoope and recently-signed Chase Coffman.
Doyle already has posted career-best numbers with 20 receptions, 204 yards and three TDs. Swoope, the power forward-turned-tight end, continues to develop, but has just two career catches for 42 yards. In seven seasons with four teams, Coffman has appeared in 37 games, starting three, and had 18 receptions for 177 yards and two TDs.
Doyle isn’t certain to what degree his role will change while Allen mends.
“It stinks not having Dwayne in there,’’ said the Cathedral High School product, “but maybe more plays.’’
Respect flowed toward Doyle from several directions as he anticipated an expanded role.
Luck compared his low-key tight end to Clint Eastwood.
“The strong, silent type,” he said.
Pagano was more effusive. The Colts claimed Doyle off waivers from the Titans in September 2013. Tennessee was in the process of re-signing him to its practice squad when the Colts stepped in.
“It’s remarkable when you come to work every single day and you work at your craft and you’re a great pro and you’re a great teammate,’’ Pagano said. “It’s a great story, but it’s a testament to him as a human being and a selfless guy and a workaholic.
“You check off all the boxes: reliability, accountability, dependability. You check ‘em all off.’’