WESTFIELD — Hale Hentges has been so good during training camp at Grand Park that Saturday’s practice nearly came to a halt when the undrafted tight end dropped a pass in one-on-one drills.
Never mind it took a herculean effort by safety Malik Hooker to jar the ball loose initially. The ball hit the ground after touching Hentges’ hands, and it was a sight the Indianapolis Colts reacted as though they’d never seen before.
“He’s had a great camp so finally when the ball hit the ground when it was thrown to him, it was everybody was shocked, ‘There it is, there it is,’” head coach Frank Reich said with a laugh. “He just finds a way to get things done in the pass game and the run game. To his credit, he’s really a technician, and it’s as much a mindset with him. So really happy with how Hale has done in training camp.”
Hentges was right back at it Sunday, making plays with scary consistency and improving his stock as the most likely candidate to keep a two-decade long streak alive.
Every year since 1999, at least one undrafted free agent has made the Colts’ 53-man roster coming out of training camp. With great competition across the board this summer, there aren’t any obvious positions where depth is thin.
The tight end group boasts a trio of front-line players in Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron and Mo Alie-Cox. But only Doyle excels as a blocker among the group, and that was Hentges’ specialty at Alabama.
He’s been exactly as advertised blocking the edge in the running game, but he’s been a bit of a revelation with his athleticism and production in the passing game — perhaps opening a door for the 22-year-old to make the team as the fourth tight end.
It’s reminiscent of another undrafted tight end who has made quite an impact in Indianapolis — Jack Doyle.
Hentges shares some physical similarities with the 2017 Pro Bowler, and he’s made sure to make the most out of his time in the same meeting room.
“I really flock to him because I really admire his game, and I want to be like him,” Hentges said. “Every route I do, every blocking technique, I’m always picking his brain and asking, ‘What did I do wrong there? What can I do better? What did you see?’
“He’s always so helpful with me, just telling me, ‘Hey, try doing this.’ I’m just trying to learn because he’s one of the best at what he does, and I’m just trying to take it all in.”
FITS THE BILL
Legendary Colts front-office boss Bill Polian visited Grand Park on Sunday in his role as an analyst for Sirius/XM NFL Radio.
He’s known Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich since drafting him with the Buffalo Bills in 1985 and was the first to peg the quarterback as a future head coach.
So Reich’s success in his first season with the Colts came as no surprise to Polian, who saw it coming even after the opening-week loss against Cincinnati.
“He was upbeat,” Polian said. “He saw the game as it developed the right way. He was confident that the guys were tuned in and buying in. So it would only be a matter of time, and it was.”
The turnaround from a 1-5 start to a wild-card playoff victory has helped fuel high expectations this season.
Polian, of course, believes Indianapolis has the right man for the job.
“He’s proven what he’s got,” Polian said. “But, again, I’ve known him since he was 21. So that was no surprise. Anybody that’s been around him was not surprised about the outcome.”
Andrew Luck again watched most of the team drills Sunday from a sideline perch near offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni.
The quarterback has not practiced since July 27 as he regains strength in his left calf. But Sirianni proclaims not to be concerned about the potential effect of Luck’s absence on the first-team offense when the regular season starts in September.
“He’s getting the mental reps that he needs,” Sirianni said. “I know we all want him to have the full-go reps, but we as an entire group have to focus on getting better ourselves each and every day. ’Cause as they get better, Andrew will play better.
“I think we’re still growing, and I think we can be where we want to be Game 1, even without Andrew practicing right now. And that’s our goal.”
The Colts signed cornerback Isaiah Langley and waived tight end Zach Conque on Sunday.
Langley, an undrafted free agent out of USC, originally signed with the Oakland Raiders in June.