INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The offensive depth chart is being stressed to the max.
Pro Bowl tight end Eric Ebron? Gone for the rest of the season. The culprit: ankle issues.
Feature back Marlon Mack? Gone for at least another game, probably longer. The culprit: a fractured right hand.
T.Y. Hilton? That’s to be determined. The Indianapolis Colts’ big-play wideout was a shadow of himself in the loss at Houston due to a calf injury – he admittedly lacked his explosiveness – and it’s uncertain if he’ll be healthy enough for Sunday’s suddenly-humongous meeting with the Tennessee Titans in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Hilton experienced tightness in the calf during the Texans game and, as expected, swelling in it afterwards.
“Just taking it day-by-day and see how things go,’’ he said Tuesday. “Trying to stay on top of it and getting it better.
“If I can go, I go.’’
It’s also uncertain if rookie Parris Campbell (fractured right hand) and Devin Funchess (fractured clavicle) will be available Sunday.
“Everybody’s in this position right now,’’ offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “There’s some teams that maybe their roster isn’t taking the same hit, but everybody is in a bit of a predicament in some way.
“We’re not going to ever use that as an excuse. It’s our job to get the guys in position to make plays they’re able (to make). Would we like to have everybody? Yes, but that’s just not always a part of the reality in the NFL.’’
Here’s a reality when it comes to the Colts: the unexpected loss of Ebron means a heavier workload for Jack Doyle.
“Coming into the year we had two Pro Bowl tight ends on the roster,’’ Sirianni said. “Now, we have one.
“That’s more than a lot of people can say.’’
The next five games will determine the magnitude of Ebron’s absence. He has had his moments this season, but hasn’t remotely approached the impact he had last season when he earned his only Pro Bowl nod on the strength of 66 receptions, 750 yards and 13 TDs.
Ebron will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and finishing it on IR, coupled with the inconsistency through 11 games, isn’t likely to increase his value on the open market.
The next five games might cement Doyle’s value to the franchise. He, too, is in a contract year.
Mention Doyle’s name in the locker room, and the reaction is universally upbeat.
“Jack, man, Jack’s fundamentally sound,’’ Hilton said. “I call him our Tim Duncan. He’s special.’’
If Sirianni and Frank Reich require more of Doyle over the next five games? No problem.
“He’ll be ready,’’ Hilton said. “We ain’t got nothing to worry about when it comes to the tight end position and Jack. He’s ready for any position he’s put in.
“He’s shown it time and time again that he’s ready to step up. It’s been his room. We’ll be alright.’’
Jacoby Brissett’s eyes lit up when Doyle’s name was mentioned.
“Aw, man, I tell everybody he’s one of my favorite teammates of all time,’’ he said. “He’s a beast out there. He does everything for us, everything right. He’s a guy I think a lot of players on the team look up to.’’
Is Doyle an overlooked talent outside the building?
“No question,’’ Brissett agreed, “but that’s how Jack likes the role. He doesn’t want the attention. He just likes to go play football.’’
Brissett discovered Doyle’s value in 2017. The Colts acquired Brissett in an early-September trade with New England and he would start the final 17 games. He leaned heavily on Doyle’s reliability, and Doyle responded with the best season of his career – 80 catches, 690 yards, two TDs – which landed him in the Pro Bowl. Among Colts’ tight ends, only Dallas Clark has had more receptions in a season (100 in 2009).
Losing Ebron is “a tough loss,’’ Doyle said. “Obviously was a great playmaker for us. It’s the same mentality for us: next man up.’’
He would embrace an increased workload in an offense that has had to adjust to being without top-flight skill players much of the season.
“Yeah, everyone wants to be a help in any way possible,’’ Doyle said. “If that’s the way I can help, I’d be fine with it.’’
Doyle is in the midst of one of those Doyle-like seasons: quietly efficient. After missing 10 games last season with hip and kidney injuries, he’s fourth on the team with 30 receptions and 304 yards, and tied for 3rd with three TDs. He’s averaging 10.1 yards per catch, which would be a career-high, and has three of the team’s 25 receptions that have gained at least 20 yards.
The former Cathedral H.S. standout remains the Colts’ best all-around tight end. He’s an accomplished blocker and arguably the most reliable of Brissett’s receiving options. Over the past three seasons, Doyle has caught 136 of his 183 targets (73.3 percent).
Whenever the Colts are making personnel decisions, three boxes must be checked: toughness, being consistency and intelligence.
“He has all three of those things,’’ Sirianni said of Doyle. “It just shows up in his style of play. A lot of guys can be smart and tough, but Jack has skill, too.’’
Blast from the past for Doyle
Doyle frequently sports a beard. He normally allows it to grow through the bye week before getting rid of it. Now, though, he’s got one of those Grizzly Adams’ beards. It’s long and bushy.
“I haven’t done this since senior year in college,’’ he said. I always joke with people that it takes dedication and hard work (to grow it). But it’s really just laziness.
“I’ll probably leave it until the end of the year, then I’ll shave it.’’