The Colts made several moves this offseason in an attempt to get better, and get better they did. Some of the moves will help the Colts out a lot, although perhaps no "additions" will be more influential and significant as the return of the injured players. And perhaps none of those injured players returning will improve the team more than the return of tight end Dwayne Allen.
In his second season in the league, Allen played just a half of a game before suffering a season-ending injury. He caught just one pass on the season, though it was a 20 yard touchdown reception. In his rookie season in 2012, Allen was a tremendous blocking tight end who helped out in the receiving game as well, catching 45 passes for 521 yards and a touchdown. While he'll help a lot in the receiving game, he will also help the team out a lot in the run game as a blocker, something he does very well.
In addition to Allen's return, the Colts will have Coby Fleener as well, who had a good year in 2013 and should continue to improve this year in his third year as well. Fleener is the receiving tight end and is very talented in that area, and last year he handled the number one tight end duties for pretty much the entire season as Allen was out. In 2013, Fleener caught 52 passes for 608 yards and 4 touchdowns, all of which were improvements from his rookie season. The Colts run a two-tight end offense and therefore Allen and Fleener will both be starting and there's a very real chance that in 2014 they will emerge as the best tight end duo in the NFL. Both Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are talented tight ends who have produced at the NFL level yet who are both entering just their third season in the league. They will undoubtedly be the team's top two tight ends in 2014 - the only real question is who will back them up.
Other than Allen and Fleener, the Colts have three tight ends on their roster who are likely fighting for two roster spots. Jack Doyle played in 15 games for the Colts in 2013, starting 4, and he caught 5 passes for 19 yards. He was used much more as a blocking tight end than a receiving one (obviously) and he did a good job in that area. Weslye Saunders played in 6 games with the Colts in 2013 (starting 1) and he caught 4 passes for 46 yards. Saunders also played with the team in 2012, when he played in 11 games (starting 4) and catching 2 passes for 15 yards. Like Doyle, Saunders was used mainly as a blocking tight end and he did a solid job at that.
The other tight end the Colts have on their roster is Erik Swoope, who the team signed as an undrafted free agent out of Miami this offseason. Swoope, however, has never played organized football but instead was a basketball player at Miami. Here's what I wrote about him in my look at the undrafted free agents:
Erik Swoope, TE, Miami
In perhaps the most interesting move the Colts made over the draft weekend, they signed a guy who has never played organized football at any level. Swoope, a 6-5, 220 pound former basketball player for the Miami Hurricanes, started 27 out of 110 games and scored 291 career points, grabbed 186 career rebounds, 37 steals, 31 assists, and 25 blocks in 1,190 minutes played. He shot 51.9 percent from the field and 57.7 percent on free throws. Despite having never played organized football, several teams (including the Broncos) had worked out Swoope before the draft. The Colts press release said of him that, "Although he has not played organized football at any level of his athletic career, Swoope's athleticism gives him the chance to make the transition to football similar to the paths of San Diego tight end Antonio Gates and New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham." It is commonly known that basketball players can transition to make good tight ends.
Outlook: I have no idea what to make of Swoope because, honestly, I've never seen him play football. No one has. But here's what I do know - many tight ends started out as basketball players and many basketball players have translated well to tight end. So I'm not ruling Swoope out and I'm excited to watch the guy play and adjust to the game. But I also know that the Colts have two very good tight ends in Dwayne Allen andCoby Fleener, so the spots open for tight ends to make the roster is likely down to two from there. Can Swoope beat out Weslye Saunders or Jack Doyle for one of the backup roles, will he start on the practice squad, or will it be neither of those options? I wish I could give you more, but I just don't know. It will definitely be something to watch going forward.
Swoope is a very interesting guy to watch and I don't really know what to make of him, because after all we haven't really seen much from him. He's developing well, per all reports, and former basketball players have made good tight ends before. Until we see him on the field in camp and preseason, however, we won't truly know what he can do.
Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener will be the starters, and then the other three will compete for what will likely be two spots. I'm going to include Erik Swoope, but I really don't know much about how he will do on the football field. It very well might be him as the odd man out, but we can't really say for sure until training camp.
Week One Starters: Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener; Backups: Jack Doyle, Erik Swoope; Cut: Weslye Saunders
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' roster heading into camp, check out Josh Wilson's other position previews: