One of my favorite all-time Colts is Ken Dilger. I still bristle a little bit when I recall the news that he'd been cut from the team in 2001, a year where he he was one of the very few Colts Pro Bowlers on a 6-10 team. Since the Colts took Dilger in the second round of the 1995 NFL Draft, the Colts have seen a succession of excellent players at the tight end position.
There was Dilger, then Marcus Pollard, Dallas Clark, and now Jacob Tamme.
Recently, Ken Dilger was at an event in Peoria, IL with Proctor and Gamble and Febreze. The event was to highlight a year long promotion called Take It To The House, which rewarded fans for how the decorated their house with NFL team-based paraphernalia. The winner in Peoria, Beth Grier, had Proctor and Gamble make out a $10,000 donation in her name to the St. Jude’s Children Research Center in Peoria.
While he was there, Ken was able to chit-chat with me about the event, his playing career for the Colts, and what Indy needs to do to get back to the Super Bowl.
BBS: Where you encouraged to do charity events like this when you were a player with the Colts and, later, with the Buccaneers?
Dilger: Yeah, I did. We had community events, whether you’d go to a grade school and talk to kids of all ages about staying in school, doing all the right things and a lot of players out there, throughout their NFL career, always had foundations. I had a foundation for about eight or nine years that I supported: Local Teens Athletes Children's Charities. Yeah, they do a lot of great things throughout the NFL all across the country with their corporate sponsorships.
BBS: Talk about your career with the Colts. What were your favorite memories?
Dilger: A lot of great memories. My rookie year, you know, coming into the NFL and becoming a starter with guys like Jim harbaugh and Marshall Faulk and Richard Dent. Those guys were great players and have gone on to do great things. Beating the San Francisco 49ers that year  when they were Super Bowl champions; beating the Green Bay Packers the following year when they were Super Bowl champs; going to the AFC Championship Game my rookie year. Then, we kind of went through a change in leadership there. Once we got Peyton Manning, we knew things were going to get better. Had a couple of good playoff runs but, you know, for the last eight or nine years they’d done a good job with their personnel, building a great franchise.
BBS: Do you still keep in touch with your old Colts teammates?
Dilger: Yeah, but there are not too many left [on current team]. I think the only guys there left are Peyton, Jeff Saturday, Ryan Diem, and Reggie Wayne. But, I see those guys as much as I can.
BBS: What was the team like for you this past year, as an observer? For me, it was a frustrating season. What did you see?
Dilger: You know what, I just saw a team that had great expectations. They were sitting pretty at 5-2 after the bye week, and all of a sudden the injury bug hit. Dallas Clark gets on IR. Bob Sanders is out the first week. After the regular season, they had 19 guys on IR. You got to get guys like Austin Collie and Blair White in there to help Peyton move the ball on offense. But, I think it was just a frustrating year because everybody knew the Colts were going to be a good team, but the injury bug hit them. They kind of fought their way through and won the division and got to the playoffs, but the injury bug just hit them too hard this season.
BBS: When he was drafted last year, some of us remarked that Brody Eldridge finally gave the Colts their Ken Dilger-like tight end.
BBS: Do you see similarities between Brody's game and yours when you played?
Dilger: Yeah, I do. He’s a big, broad kid. He was going into this season not really knowing what to do. I think he’s transformed himself into a pretty good blocker. I think he only got a couple chances to do that. One of the games were he had a good game was the Kansas City game. But, he just didn’t get the chance to go out there and get experience as a blocker just because of the offense and what they try to do. The running game didn’t come around as quickly as they thought. They kind of went away from that. So, his experience as a tight end for the Colts in the running game was not as great as everybody probably thought it would be. But, I think he’s got great potential to be a very good blocking tight end and help that running game whenever they see fit to get back to it.
BBS: When you watch football now, do you focus on one position, like the tight end position. Or, are you able now to just sit back and view it like a fan?
Dilger: You know, it’s kind of hard for me to sit back and just watch it as a fan. I still do the pre-game show for WISH-TV Channel 8 on Sunday. So, I gotta watch all facets of the game. But, I wish [the Colts] could get their running game going again. As a tight end, you always want to watch Dallas Clark in the slot position. But, their offense has changed a little bit, but as a fan and ex-player you kind of see, over the last five or so year, the change in the offense from when I was playing.
BBS: I'd like to ask you about the current labor situation. Everyone is obviously very interested in this. From what you are seeing, will we have football next year?
Dilger: You know what, that’s a great question. I know we get updates from the Players Association, and all the intentions that I see are there is going to be a lockout come March 4th. The owners do not want to move forward with what the players are getting as far as their salary cap. The 18 game season is always a big push. I think its going to be a big battle come March and I think it will get done. I think there's too much to lose in terms of TV revenue and ticket sales. It's gonna be a battle. Its gonna be a lot of things that have to change before this thing gets done. I know I read somewhere in the paper that the owners are not wanting to move forward. Some owners would rather see them not go on than to give the players what they are asking for right now.
BBS: Do you like where the NFL is going int terms of the emphasis on the passing game, helmet-to-helmet hits, protecting the quarterback, etc.? It's obviously a very different game now then when you played.
Dilger: Yes and no. Certain aspects I like about it are that it's still a good product. Fans are still very interested in going to the games. I think all the teams out there put on a great show. There's a lot of excitement week to week. Every season, you see new teams step up and become contenders in their division and conferences. But, I think that the rules on tackling, helmet-to-helmet, protecting the QB, I think the league kind of jumped too quickly this year to decide what a helmet-to-helmet hit is, what draws a flag, and what gets fined on that following Tuesday. So, I think that needs to be tweaked a little bit. Because, on every play, there’s going to be some type of helmet-to-helmet contact, trying to make a tackle on the quarterback, the receiver, etc. But, all in all, I like where the NFL is heading.
BBS: What do the Colts need to do to get back to the Super Bowl?
Dilger: Well, I think they need to upgrade the offensive line, starting probably with the left tackle. Charlie Johnson has done a pretty good job at left tackle, but I think he’s out of position. I think he's a better guard than tackle. He was kind of forced into that position with Tony Ugoh being released last year. And, just getting healthy. I think that when they’re healthy, at wide receiver and at tight end with Dallas [Clark], they are very potent on offense. I think Peyton really missed Dallas and Austin Collie late in the season. I think that offense is not as good without them. But, all in all, I think they’re a very good team. I think they’re set for the next couple of years and if they can stay healthy, they can make another playoff run.