INDIANAPOLIS – The major credit for Mo Alie-Cox being with the Colts actually goes back to a Ryan Grigson hiring.
When Chris Ballard was hired as general manager back in January 2017, he initially retained VP Player of Football Operations Jimmy Raye, who actually interviewed for that GM opening.
Raye was with the Chargers, as their Director of College Scouting, when San Diego took a chance on Antonio Gates making the transition from college basketball to playing tight end in the NFL.
That couldn’t have worked out better.
So, Raye got Ballard’s ear in trying to see if another basketball project could work.
Just days before the 2017 NFL Draft, the Colts signed Mo Alie-Cox from VCU.
Even though Alie-Cox’s first NFL season was defined by injuries and learning on the practice squad, he was a player that Ballard wanted Frank Reich to hear more about, when the new head coach (who loves tight ends) arrived in 2018.
“I remember when I first got here, him telling me about this former basketball player that we had at tight end that he really thought was going to develop into a big-time player in this league,” Reich recalls of Ballard’s conversation.
Unlike Erik Swoope’s path to the NFL, Alie-Cox had some experience in football, but nothing since his freshman year of high school. Following that year, Alie-Cox transferred to a private high school that didn’t have football, so focusing on basketball (and eventually getting a D1 scholarship on the hardwood) was the main goal.
Still, the Colts knew it would take patience and development with Alie-Cox.
The occasional flash in 2018 and 2019 turned into a much more complete effort this past Sunday, as Alie-Cox rebounded from an early drop to record 5 catches for 111 yards.
With the Colts missing top tight ends Jack Doyle and Trey Burton, Philip Rivers still had faith in one of his favorite positions.
“Philip let me and Nick (Sirianni) know right away how much confidence he has in Mo and not holding anything back,” Reich said of the game plan last week. “Philip likes throwing to those big targets. He is used to doing it to receivers, but you could see how quickly he got used to Mo – just throwing to that big target.
“What else can you say, Mo is a big man and a great competitor. Hats off to him.”
Alie-Cox was consistent with his big plays throughout Sunday’s first win of 2020.
His 5 grabs (in 6 targets) went for 33, 27, 21, 16 and 14 yards. Alie-Cox ran routes more in the Eric Ebron role of 2018, stretching the field a bit vertically. It was a positive sign in Alie-Cox’s route running, which the staff has said needed work.
Of course, seeing the 6-5, 267-pound Alie-Cox rumble in the open field on a screen showed off more of his athleticism.
What we saw on Sunday was a vision of how the Colts view the potential in Alie-Cox.
“This guy is so instrumental on our team,” Reich said of the 27-year-old tight end back during camp. “I see Mo as a very important part of our roster whether he plays 10 plays in the game or 30 plays in the game. He has really developed. He deserves a lot of that credit. He’s really worked at his game. He’s become a much better route runner. When I tell you he’s improved in his route running, it’s very significant. He’s done that and I think (tight ends coach Jason Michael) has helped him in that regard as well. I think that Mo has always been that big, physical guy so his blocking has always been good, but it’s just gotten better. He’s a dominating, physical presence on the football field and there’s something to be said for that. You feel Mo when he’s on the field and he makes a big impact for us. He’s a guy that we do not underestimate the importance of him being out there on the field for us. I think there is a lot of upside yet, I really do. I think there is a lot of upside for Mo. I think he’s just getting started.”
Sunday was quite that, and a sign that the Colts could have some solid tight end depth once Doyle and Burton return.