INDIANAPOLIS — It’s no coincidence the Indianapolis Colts’ lone shutout last season came the week after tight end Jack Doyle was lost for the year.
Yes, Eric Ebron shined in his first season under head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. And, yes, 25-year-old Mo Alie-Cox is a rising talent who appears to be poised for a breakout year.
But no other tight end means as much to this roster as Doyle.
It's not just the raw numbers that prove it, either. Doyle set career-highs with 80 catches and 690 yards during a 2017 season after which he played in the Pro Bowl for the first time.
But his all-around ability goes far beyond statistics.
“Jack would be a heck of a coach,” Sirianni said. “But his presence and him leading by example is really where Jack shines.”
Doyle’s versatility also allows Reich and Sirianni the flexibility to mix up plays and formations without massive changes in personnel.
His mere presence on the field doesn’t tip the offense’s hand. He’s as adept a blocker in the running game as he is a receiver in the passing game. And he’s more than willing to stay in line as a pass protector when that’s called for as well.
Doyle still has the mentality of an undrafted free agent out of Western Kentucky who was cut as a rookie in 2013 after training camp with the Tennessee Titans.
And Indianapolis desperately missed his work ethic and consistency after hip and kidney injuries ended his 2018 season.
“It’s exciting to know that he is making a full recovery from his hip, from his kidney and we are going to have the Jack Doyle that we had at the start last year,” Sirianni said.
While Ebron racked up career highs with 66 catches, 750 yards and 13 touchdown receptions in a tight-end friendly scheme, Doyle mostly watched from the sideline.
The hip injury occurred in Week 2 at Washington when a defender fell onto his back in a pile after a tackle. He somehow finished that game but was forced out for the next five.
He returned in Week 8 at Oakland with a big game — six catches for 70 yards and a score — but played in just three more before suffering a lacerated kidney against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 25.
The hip injury has healed, but he's still recovering from the procedure to fix the kidney. Doyle estimates he lost 25 pounds during the process, and he’s making sure he regains the weight the right way.
General manager Chris Ballard mentioned training camp as a goal for the tight end’s return in February, but Doyle is not ready to lock in a specific target.
“I really am trying to take it one day at a time, not rushing anything,” he said. “But I’m happy with where I’m at and happy with the progress I’ve made. It’s definitely going in the right direction, and when it’s time to get back out there, I’ll be excited to be back out there. I promise you that.”
The Colts will be equally excited to see him.
He, Ebron and Alie-Cox each had a touchdown catch in the win against the Raiders — an NFL first for tight ends — but there is precious little tape of the trio playing together.
It will be intriguing to see how Reich and Sirianni employ the three of them, if they’re all able to remain healthy.
Sirianni has mentioned there were a few three-tight end sets in last year’s playbook that Indianapolis never got around to using. If nothing else, the depth at the position has everyone filled with anticipation.
“We’ve got a great room,” Doyle said. “We really do, and it’s exciting with how this offense works and uses the tight ends. We’ve got a great room and (we're) excited for the season. That’s for sure.”