As Greg Dulcich heads to injured reserve, it’s wise to temper hopes
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On the surface, it would seem that third-round tight end Greg Dulcich has lost — and will lose — too much time to be any kind of factor in his rookie season.
For starters, he plays a position that is notoriously tough to master as a rookie. Playing tight end effectively in the outside-zone scheme requires learning three massive tasks: that of a run blocker, a pass protector and a pass catcher. So, take the typical tornado of information tossed at a rookie and triple it.
Then came the hamstring injury that he suffered in OTAs. It sidelined him for nearly all of training camp. He didn’t play a preseason snap.
And this week, he will go on injured reserve, which means he will miss at least the first four games.
“Hamstrings are strange,” Broncos general manager George Paton said. “He was really close to coming back then he tweaked it. I wouldn’t call it a setback, but he just can’t get over that hump.”
And now, even though Paton said Dulcich believes he can return soon, the GM erected a stop sign on Paton.
“We want to protect him from himself, so, we’re going to do that,” Paton said. “We’re going to take the conservative route, which we like to do with these types of injuries.”
But Paton still seems confident he can extract something from Dulcich as a rookie.
“He’s going to help us win a lot of football games this year. He’ll be ready after those four games are up,” Paton said. “In the meantime, he’ll be training, and you guys see him working.”
One pulls out the binoculars during training camp and sees Dulcich on the north rehab field at UCHealth Training Center. One cannot question the work the rookie puts in.
But it’s not a matter of the work he’s done — or what he does in the coming weeks. It’s what he can’t do — and what he hasn’t been able to do.
Dulcich had only a handful of team-period repetitions in the preseason, and then the hamstring forced him to retreat. He won’t be able to get any practice repetitions while he is on injured reserve. He can watch practice and get mental reps, but those will only go so far given how much he must learn.
But even if Dulcich’s hamstring allows him to play, he’s fighting history.
Simply put, third-round tight ends generally don’t do much as rookies.
In fact, since 2000, third-round rookie tight ends have averaged 13.2 receptions, 144.3 yards and 1.1 touchdowns while playing in an average of 12 games. Even when extrapolating the numbers to a 17-game season, those averages become 18.3 receptions, 198.7 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per 17 games.
Just three of 52 Round 3 tight ends who played as rookies since 2000 broke 500 yards. A majority — 27 of 52 — didn’t even hit 100 receiving yards.
Eventually, Dulcich could live up to Paton’s proclamation Tuesday — that the UCLA product will be “a splash kind of guy.”
But that splash wasn’t likely to come with Dulcich even before the hamstring injury.
Optimism is fine, but with Dulcich, it’s best to be pragmatic and realistic. Any positive contribution the Broncos get from him this season will now be a bonus.
Dulcich needs time, and that’s OK. But the reality is that his rookie season will likely be about learning and healing.