INDIANAPOLIS --- May 13th will mark the one year anniversary of Colts tight end Erik Swoope playing organized football, and all 365 of those days have been a trial by fire in the NFL, after playing four years of college basketball for the Miami Hurricanes.
After a rookie season on the Indianapolis practice squad where he went from 220 pounds on the hardwood to 246 pounds on the gridiron, Swoope (pronounced “Swope&rdquo
has defined goals for year two after adding 26 pounds to his frame.
“I want to learn the offense. Above anything, I need to know what I’m doing,” Swoope told Colts.com on Wednesday. “Right now everything is catered around studying and getting myself in peak shape, so I can basically run around like I did on the basketball court.”
That means knowing his assignment on any given play on offense or special teams before the ball is snapped.
“Just getting a sense of if I’m in a run situation, learning the different defensive coverages, how the line is set up,” Swoope explained. “Getting used to some of the calls, hearing our quarterbacks, just how they’re giving some general information, but just getting used to training my ears to hear that again. Now having that year of experience going into it now, it’s so much easier. I actually feel like I understand what they’re talking about. It doesn’t feel like Japanese anymore. It looks like it’s going to be a good year.”
That’s a confident statement from Swoope, considering he literally had no idea what to expect when he walked into the building as a football player for the first time last offseason.
“Last year, I had never even seen a football practice. I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Swoope remembered. “I didn’t know how the guys were going to be, never been in a football locker room, not even getting to football terminology, just the basics of being on a team with this many people I hadn’t been around ever. So going into this year, being around for the whole season was extremely beneficial. Now coming back, I feel like I’m a part of this team...I can go into this season with goals and things I want to achieve personally. It’s like a breath of fresh air.”
And Swoope points to his time on the practice squad last season as valuable for a number of different reasons.
“The biggest thing was going against the defense. I went against the starters all season,” said Swoope. “I had some back-and-forth conversation with them, giving me pointers and tips to work on, so whether I’m emulating Jimmy Graham to (Rob) Gronk(owski), Julius Thomas, or whoever, I would kind of get familiarity. I would study the guys. I got a lot of time to study their tape, their catches, their drops, whatever it may be.”
Posting up on the block is now getting inside position in the red zone, and a quick twitch off the line of scrimmage is the new crossover.
Swoope follows in the footsteps of Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham, who also played basketball for Miami in college before spending his first five years in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints (three of which were Pro Bowl seasons). Unlike Swoope though, Graham played one season of college football as a graduate student before being drafted in the third round. Swoope didn’t have that luxury before signing as an undrafted free agent, but not until he consulted with Graham himself.
“The main thing Jimmy did was ask me character questions --What motivates you?" Swoope told NFL.com last year. "He said, 'If you're going to make this change, don't let it just be on a whim. If it motivates you, strive for it.' We didn't talk about X's and O's, just about character."
The X’s and O’s have come throughout the past 11 months, and the tape study of the great tight ends in the NFL has helped too.
“The biggest thing, especially talking to those guys, is you have to find within your skill set what’s going to stand out, the things that you have to carry onto the field that no one else can do,” said Swoope Wednesday. “The things that are going to make you stand out, make you a real threat in this league. From a variety of conversations, I’m trying to find that from a physical standpoint, weight, the whole deal, and then to route running, blocking, so on and so forth.”
At 6’5”, Swoope is an inch shorter than Colts tight ends Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle but two inches taller than Dwayne Allen on the roster; although, Swoope is still the lightest of that group, listed at 246 pounds.
The position is deep on the Colts roster, as Swoope continues his quest to master a new sport at the professional level, but it will be an intriguing evolution to observe as the offseason program continues.