TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Jacob Tamme has always been a quick study.
He graduated from the University of Kentucky in three years, made a seamless transition from high school receiver to college tight end and wound up No. 2 among SEC tight ends in career receptions.
Now Tamme is showing the Indianapolis Colts how adept he is on his feet.
"He's done a lot of the things we saw him doing in college, he's doing the things we've seen him do in practice and he's done it all well," coach Tony Dungy said after Monday morning's practice at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
The Colts figured Tamme would fit into their system.
They liked his speed, his route-running skills and his hands. They also liked the fact Tamme played in a similarly wide-open offence at Kentucky, and that he spent the past couple of years modeling his game after another Colts tight end, Dallas Clark.
So the Colts jumped at the chance to select Tamme in the fourth round of April's NFL draft.
While some rookies are slow to pick up the nuances of new teammates and new systems, Tamme has shown no sign of struggling. He's played well enough, in fact, to keep himself in contention for a starting job in the Colts' offence.
Unlike most teams, the Colts' standard offence uses a one-back formation with two tight ends. One of those spots, barring injury, will go to Clark, who has been putting up Pro Bowl numbers the past several seasons and in 2007 set franchise single-season records with 58 receptions and 11 TDs.
The fight for the other spot, vacated when Ben Utecht left for Cincinnati in free agency and the Colts released No. 3 tight end Bryan Fletcher, appears to be between Tamme and Gijon Robinson, who spent last season on the Colts' practice squad.
Rookie Tom Santi, a sixth-round pick from Virginia, could be a contender, but he hasn't practised yet at training camp after having surgery in June to remove an infected bursa sac from his knee - the same surgery that has sidelined quarterback Peyton Manning for the past month.
"I feel like I've done well," Robinson said. "Obviously, I've got a lot still to work on, but I do feel like I've done well."
The numbers show the battle has essentially been a draw.
Robinson caught four passes for 39 yards in the Colts' pre-season opener against Washington and showed he could make acrobatic catches and block. Tamme starred in Saturday's 23-20 overtime loss to Carolina, catching five passes for 57 yards and two touchdowns - both from former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen.
"It was a blast, getting a chance to make some plays," Tamme said. "That's all you can hope for. You've just got to keep building on it."
Dungy isn't saying yet who has the edge, but the early results have reinforced a few perceptions.
Tamme's speed makes him a stronger downfield threat, while Robinson, who played at Missouri Western State, a Division II school, has excelled over the middle and as a blocker because of his stockier build.
"It's a pretty big jump," Robinson said of his move to the NFL. "In college, I probably ran three routes. Here, I'm running multiple routes. It's also a big jump as far as being as precise as you want to be, understanding the game and to know exactly what's going on."
Another complication is the continued absence of Manning.
While Robinson and Tamme worked with Manning during the off-season minicamps, neither has had an opportunity to catch passes from him in a live game and probably won't for at least another week. Manning is not expected to practice until next week, after the Colts finish Friday in Terre Haute.
Until then, they'll continue fine-tuning their games with Jim Sorgi, Manning's backup.
But Manning has already suggested Robinson will have a significant role in this season's offence.
Unless, of course, the quick-learning Tamme beats him out.
"I'm just soaking in the whole offence, knowing what I've got and what's going well and what I still need to work on," Tamme said. "I think everybody's taken a step up right now. They use the tight end here in a lot of different ways, and I've just got to continue to learn all that."