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2008 Indianapolis Colts Training Camp: TE Battles

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Tom Santi

via The Sabre.Com

With Ben Utecht gone to Cincy and Bryan "Mr. Suggestion" Fletcher cut a few months ago, the battle to play the #2 TE position is between Tom Santi (rookie), Jacob Tamme (rookie), and Gijon Robinson (2nd year player). Understand, the #2 TE is not a "backup" to Dallas Clark. At its core, the Colts offense is a base 2 TE offense. So, when you see Colts in 3 WR, even with Clark lined up as the slot guy, it is still not the base offense. The Colts like the 2 TE because they can both run and pass from the formation with great affect, and it is one of the reasons why Tamme and Santi were drafted this year. The Colts want to go back to more 2 TE formations. However, to do that, someone must step up in training camp and take the job.

If you want to go basic and just look that general traits, the three players in question breakdown as such:

Jacob Tamme: Great athlete, tall, great hands, great TE speed, can't block his grandmother to the fridge on Thanksgiving let alone an NFL-caliber linebacker on a blitz

Gijon Robinson: Great size, knows the offense having spent 2007 on the practice squad, excellent run blocker, not fast or athletic

Tom Santi: Solid blocker, solid receiver, decent speed, tough, leader, doesn't really wow you with anything

Just looking at the basics, Santi is the one who clearly fits what the Colts need at the #2 TE position. He's not deficient in any one area, save experience. He also hails from TE University, aka University of Virginia. Colts Couch Crew did a nice write-up on Santi a while back:

Some call it Tight End U.

No, it’s not a Hanes commercial.

It’s the University of Virginia, where head coach Al Groh has made it his mission to turn tight ends into more than guys who can block and catch the occasional ball over the middle.

One of Groh’s latest achievements: Tom Santi, the senior tight end chosen in the sixth round by the Indianapolis Colts.

...

If you play tight end at Virginia, you must be an accomplished blocker. That’s something Santi brings to the table, something that perhaps makes him more valuable all-around than Jacob Tamme, drafted two rounds earlier. While Santi lined up at wide receiver on occasion at Virginia, he won’t stretch the field or wow you with his speed and athleticism like Tamme.

Instead, what you’ll get from Santi is a hard-nosed player who’s bright (he finished with a 3.35 GPA and was an ACC Academic All-American Selection), has tremendous size (6′4″, 248) and seems willing to do just about anything.

It seems, based on who they are and how they were drafted, that Santi will assume Utecht's old role while Tamme will take on Fletcher's role, with a few wrinkles. Bill Polian said Tamme would be the Colts "flex" guy, or "move player." This means we can expect Tamme to get split out wide as a receiver, lineup at TE, or even run routes out of the backfield. His speed, route running, hands, and athleticism will drive safeties and linebackers nuts.

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Jacob Tamme

via Chris Hall at Colts.com

But, there is the off chance that Tamme could show up in camp and prove he can actually block someone. If he does, Tamme could push Santi for that starting spot, because the "flex" guy doesn't usually start.

And then there is Gijon Robinson, a dark horse player one should not underestimate. Robinson played FB in college. Last year, the Colts signed him as an undrafted rookie, converting him to H-Back. With Luke Lawton traded, we might see the Colts shift Robinson back to FB. Of the three TEs, he is the biggest in weight (255 pounds), and he is a proven lead blocker. Santi also played some FB in college due to injury to Virginia's starting FB. The key for Robinson is proving he can make plays after catching the ball. His Combine report from 2007 said he lacked the ability to run after the catch. Also, based on his SI.com college profile, he might need to show he can pass block. Lead blocking on running plays is one thing. Pass blocking is a different mindset and technique. Also, he's only 6' tall, and as much as I state that height and size are over-rated (and they are), a starting TE must be over 6' tall.Despite his size Robnson is tough and has high character.

I can see a place for all three of these guys on the roster, which is likely why Luke Lawton was traded, Bryan Fletcher cut, and Ben Utecht allowed to sign with the Bengals. Robinson might fill Lawton's role, Tamme's got Fletcher's, and Santi is the front runner for Utecht's. I'd like to see all three step in and compete for the #2 TE, pushing each other to get better. Despite losing 2/3 of their TEs this off-season, the additions of Santi and Tamme, and Robinson's development could make this unit better in 2008.

The key is Santi. He has to come into training camp, learn this offense quick, and prove something if the Colts want to run more 2 TE.