Tamme Helping Colts Fill Tight End Void

Jacob Tamme has always been a quick
He graduated from the University of Kentucky in three years,
made a seamless transition from high school receiver to college
tight end and wound up No. 2 among SEC tight ends in career
Now Tamme is showing the Indianapolis Colts how adept he is on
his feet.
"He's done a lot of the things we saw him doing in college,
he's doing the things we've seen him do in practice and he's done
it all well," coach Tony Dungy said after Monday morning's
practice at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
The Colts figured Tamme would fit into their system.
They liked his speed, his route-running skills and his hands.
They also liked the fact Tamme played in a similarly wide-open
offense at Kentucky, and that he spent the past couple of years
modeling his game after another Colts tight end, Dallas Clark.
So the Colts jumped at the chance to select Tamme in the fourth
round of April's NFL draft.
While some rookies are slow to pick up the nuances of new
teammates and new systems, Tamme has shown no sign of struggling.
He's played well enough, in fact, to keep himself in contention for
a starting job in the Colts' offense.
Unlike most teams, the Colts' standard offense uses a one-back
formation with two tight ends. One of those spots, barring injury,
will go to Clark, who has been putting up Pro Bowl numbers the past
several seasons and in 2007 set franchise single-season records
with 58 receptions and 11 TDs.
The fight for the other spot, vacated when Ben Utecht left for
Cincinnati in free agency and the Colts released No. 3 tight end
Bryan Fletcher, appears to be between Tamme and Gijon Robinson, who
spent last season on the Colts' practice squad.
Rookie Tom Santi, a sixth-round pick from Virginia, could be a
contender, but he hasn't practiced yet at training camp after
having surgery in June to remove an infected bursa sac from his
knee - the same surgery that has sidelined quarterback Peyton
Manning for the past month.
"I feel like I've done well," Robinson said. "Obviously, I've
got a lot still to work on, but I do feel like I've done well."
The numbers show the battle has essentially been a draw.
Robinson caught four passes for 39 yards in the Colts' preseason
opener against Washington and showed he could make acrobatic
catches and block. Tamme starred in Saturday's 23-20 overtime loss
to Carolina, catching five passes for 57 yards and two touchdowns -
both from former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen.
"It was a blast, getting a chance to make some plays," Tamme
said. "That's all you can hope for. You've just got to keep
building on it."
Dungy isn't saying yet who has the edge, but the early results
have reinforced a few perceptions.
Tamme's speed makes him a stronger downfield threat, while
Robinson, who played at Missouri Western State, a Division II
school, has excelled over the middle and as a blocker because of
his stockier build.
"It's a pretty big jump," Robinson said of his move to the
NFL. "In college, I probably ran three routes. Here, I'm running
multiple routes. It's also a big jump as far as being as precise as
you want to be, understanding the game and to know exactly what's
going on."
Another complication is the continued absence of Manning.
While Robinson and Tamme worked with Manning during the
offseason minicamps, neither has had an opportunity to catch passes
from him in a live game and probably won't for at least another
week. Manning is not expected to practice until next week, after
the Colts finish Friday in Terre Haute.
Until then, they'll continue fine-tuning their games with Jim
Sorgi, Manning's backup.
But Manning has already suggested Robinson will have a
significant role in this season's offense.
Unless, of course, the quick-learning Tamme beats him out.
"I'm just soaking in the whole offense, knowing what I've got
and what's going well and what I still need to work on," Tamme
said. "I think everybody's taken a step up right now. They use the
tight end here in a lot of different ways, and I've just got to
continue to learn all that."