Last Sunday against the Buffalo Bills wasn’t just another day at the office for Colts tight end Ben Utecht.
The former University of Minnesota star had the kind of day that he’s been working towards ever since signing with the Colts as an undrafted free agent back in 2004. He led the team in receiving yards for the day (66 yards) and tied running back Joseph Addai for the most receptions with seven.
”It definitely was a career day,” he told ColtPower this week. “I never even caught that many passes in one game in college. It was pretty exciting to be used that much in our offense on Sunday.”
That’s a bit of a revelation when you consider what Utecht accomplished during his collegiate career. He caught 83 passes for 1,211 yards and 15 touchdowns during four seasons, placing him -- at the time -- as the best at his position in both catches and yardage in the history of the school. No tight end had ever exceeded 1,000 yards at Minnesota let alone 1,200.
Against Buffalo last week, he also continued to perform admirably as a blocker on both passing and running downs. In fact, his overall development at his position prompted one of the television announcers covering the game to refer to Utecht as the best all-around tight end on the Colts squad this season.
”That’s a wonderful compliment and I really appreciate hearing that,” Utecht said after being told about the comment. “It’s something I’ve tried my best to become better at this year, doing what I can for this team in all facets of this position.”
When Utecht talked to us earlier this summer, he said that showing the Colts that he could be a complete tight end was his number one goal for this season. At 6-foot-6, 251 pounds, Utecht is not only a very effective receiver, he’s the tight end that has the most formidable physical presence and ability to hold his ground against defensive ends and linebackers. And that’s an essential skill since the high majority of the offensive plays don’t result in the ball being tossed to the tight end.
”I’ve really been focusing on being a point-of-attack blocker and someone they can trust in pass protection for our quarterback,” he said. “Yet I also work hard at being someone who can cover some area on the field and make some plays.”
But it hasn’t been an easy road for the friendly and highly likable Utecht. Although he’s now in his third season with the Colts, he missed his entire rookie season when he landed on the Physically Unable to Perform list due to a severe sports hernia injury that required surgery. Then last year, it appeared things were looking up when in his first NFL start in the season opener against the Ravens he caught his first NFL pass and took it all the way to the endzone. But during his second start against the Jaguars, he broke three ribs when he was kicked in the chest by a defensive lineman. After his recovery a few weeks later, he didn’t get another start the rest of the way as the team stuck with Bryan Fletcher who had stepped in during his absence. Utecht finished the season with just three catches, two of which were touchdowns.
This year, Utecht started the first four games of the season and caught six passes before an injury once again threatened to stall his momentum. During the Colts’ exciting win over the New York Jets, Utecht was tackled from behind and his opponent buried his helmet deep into his back. On the team’s injury report a few days prior to Indy’s next game against the Titans, Utecht was listed as questionable due to a back contusion.
“The doctor said I really had to have gotten hit in the perfect place for that to happen,” he explained. “I ended up actually fracturing a couple of the bones in the lumbar region and it was supposed to be a four to five week injury, but I had some miraculous healing over the two week period that I was out.”
If Utecht had to suffer through yet another injury, the timing couldn’t have been better. Following the Titans game, Indianapolis had a bye week.
”That was just a huge blessing for me,” he said. “It was just one of those things that through a lot of prayer I was able to come back in two weeks and start playing again. It wasn’t easy, but someone was watching out for me and got me through it.”
Utecht not only got through it, he bounced back even stronger than before with a four-catch performance against the Redskins for 52 yards as the Colts continued their winning ways. Over the past four weeks since returning from injury, he’s caught 17 passes for 179 yards. And even though he hasn’t seen the endzone yet this season, Utecht’s doing something else that is important to the Colts’ offensive success – he’s keeping drives alive. Out of his 23 receptions so far this season, 11 have moved the chains and given his team a new set of downs.
But with seven games remaining in the regular season, Utecht isn’t focusing on scoring touchdowns or even how many first downs he’s making. He still has one simple, yet important goal that has helped him progress to where he is today.
“I hope to continue to get better each week,” he said.
Knowing Ben Utecht and the determination he’s shown overcoming adversity early in his career, you have to believe that he will do exactly that. He’s well on his way to becoming one of the more versatile, well-rounded tight ends in the National Football League.