If one thing has proved true about the Colts it is that getting information out of the team about players, particularly when it is not required, is a rarity. Additionally, when the team sings a young player’s praises early on, the outcome tends to prove them out.
Last year, Austin Collie earned early support from the team with a strong work ethic and promising future. He went on to be the most productive rookie wide receiver in the NFL. Rookie cornerback Jerraud Powers was lauded for his uncharacteristic maturity and attention to details. He earned a starting spot that he kept throughout the entire season, when healthy. Other young players, while not in their rookie seasons, who sparked attention from Colts front office ended up playing important roles in the team’s success. These players include Pierre Garçon in 2009, Eric Foster in 2008, Melvin Bullitt in 2008, Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden in 2007, and so on.
After participating in the Colts organized team activities (OTAs) Brody Eldridge has been called a “diamond in the rough.” Pro Football Weekly reports that an unnamed source with the Colts organization stated, “He was really impressive in the OTAs. For a big guy, he is really athletic and showed a lot as a receiver. If teams forget about him, he could be a factor.”
To truly understand Eldridge’s potential, one has to have a full grasp of his collegiate experience and versatility. At Oklahoma, Eldridge served primarily as a full back or as a tight end in two or three tight end sets in his freshman and sophomore seasons. In 2007 (his sophomore season) Eldridge was voted All-Big 12 first team at full back by coaches. Eldridge started at tight end and full back in his junior year. Finally, in 2009, Eldridge proved one of the most versatile players in the NCAA, starting the season opener at center, starting the next four games at tight end, and finally moving to start at left guard for the four following games.
Starting in four different roles in two seasons is impressive, speaks to his abilities as a blocker, and could give the Colts more talent opposite Dallas Clark than they have ever had. Having played in so many roles and as a part of a powerful Oklahoma offense with numerous contributors ahead of him, he did not play a large role as a receiver. The comments by the Colts to this point suggest that Eldridge may possess legitimate receiving ability that would bolster his uses for Manning and the Colts offensive attack.
Eldridge’s development, however, could spell bad news for players like Tom Santi, Gijon Robinson, and Colin Cloherty. Santi showed last year that he can be a receiving threat but he has struggled with injuries. Robinson is an average blocker but has not played a large role in the Colts passing game and really appears to have hit a ceiling in his development. Cloherty participated on the team’s practice squad last year but has a very high hill to climb to surpass Robinson or Santi, let alone the Colts fifth round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.
If Eldridge proves capable as a lead blocker in the backfield, as a legitimate blocking force at the tight end position opposite Clark, and as a release option for Peyton Manning in the passing game, the Colts will have the first legitimate two-tight end set since Ben Utecht’s best seasons. When you add that option to the stacked group of receivers that enter camp with the Colts, it is realistic to suggest that the Colts may have the best talent at the offensive skill positions in Peyton Manning’s career.
Keep a very close eye on Eldridge’s development. He could create new and exciting opportunities for Manning and Company in 2010.