In the 2008 NFL Draft the Colts selected two tight ends, the first was Jacob Tamme in the fourth round and the second was Tom Santi in the sixth. One of Tamme or Santi was to eventually replace the departing Ben Utecht, with Santi being compared as a Utecht-clone at the time he was drafted.
Unfortunately, since Santi joined the team he has suffered numerous injuries, missing time for shoulder, hand, and back injuries in his first two seasons. Despite these injuries, Santi has shown remarkable potential, mainly as a receiver, breaking out in 2009 against Baltimore when he caught six passes for 80 yards, and showed the kind of hands and straight-line speed that should give fans something to be excited about.
He also showed glimpses of his abilities in one of the biggest comebacks in Peyton Manning’s storied history of comebacks. In week five of the 2008 season the Colts traveled to Houston and needed to score three touchdowns, the first of which came after Manning completed a seven-yard pass to Santi with four-minutes and fourteen-seconds remaining in the game.
The difficulty for Santi is that he will need to not only stay healthy this year, particularly during the off-season, to keep his roster spot in 2010, he will also have to compete for time with an even busier roster at tight end. For the last two seasons, former undrafted free agent Gijon Robinson has received the bulk of the starts opposite Dallas Clark, when Indianapolis has chosen to start with a two tight end set.
When Polian and company decided to draft Brody Eldridge in the fifth round in this year’s draft the team took on a new dynamic. First, it would seem Eldridge is more direct competition for Robinson than he is for Santi but when Santi was brought onto the team to compete with Robinson to take over for Utecht, he belongs in the discussion. Additionally, although Eldridge was not known in any way as a receiving tight end, as he caught only 13 passes for 98 yards in four years at Oklahoma, Manning has not displayed fear throwing to his weaker receiving targets and could develop Eldridge in the passing game.
Obviously it would save the Colts a roster spot to keep only three tight ends, if Eldrige can fit the bill as a receiver, which leaves it up to Santi to separate himself from his competition and prove the most capable to line up across from Clark as a receiving option with above-average blocking capabilities. Tamme has potential to take-over for Clark, though that is well down the road, but is really limited to special teams abilities, and as a back-up receiver.
It is up to Santi to stay healthy, display his receiving abilities, improve as a blocker, and potentially earn a permanent spot on this team. Otherwise, Santi will likely be the odd man out in the tight end competition for the 2010 roster. Hopefully Santi is aware of this and gives fans something to be excited about during summer training activities and the pre-season.