Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Standing on the side of the practice field, a 6-foot-6-inch former VCU basketball star watches as his Indianapolis Colts teammates go through the plays. He visualizes himself running the routes and catching passes.
For Mo Alie-Cox, this was the beginning of the offseason workouts as he worked his way back from a thumb injury. Those mental reps prepared Alie-Cox for the season and allowed him to make a splash once he returned to the field.
“I knew what plays were being run so I just tried to put myself in that situation as if I was on the field and just get mental reps,” Alie-Cox said on the phone Monday. “Mental reps are just as important as the physical reps on the field.”
After fellow tight ends Jack Doyle and Trey Burton went down with injuries, Alie-Cox earned his first career start on Sept. 20 against the Minnesota Vikings.
Alie-Cox shined in the start, logging five receptions for 111 yards — a career-high.
“I’ve worked very hard at it and once my number was called, I just went out there and tried to make plays,” Alie-Cox said.
After his breakout game, Alie-Cox recorded two back-to-back weeks with touchdowns. The Alexandria, Virginia, native said his preseason goal was to score five or more touchdowns, and the early success put him in a prime position to achieve his goal.
With the return of the other tight ends, the Colts coaching staff still wanted to keep Alie-Cox active in the offense.
“We have to continue to keep him involved. He’s made too many plays to say, ‘OK, now Mo, you take a back seat,’” Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni told reporters on Sept. 29. “We want to get him the football and we have a variety of ways we want – we know what he does well and we know what he excels at.”
Alie-Cox’s previous role was as a run blocking tight end, and the transition to pass catching wasn’t difficult when he ran routes at practice. The only difference: now it was in games.
“That’s normally not what I’m asked to do, but that’s what I was asked to do because of injuries,” Alie-Cox said. “During the season, that’s not what I’m asked to do. When they asked me to do it, I just went out there and shined in that role.”
When Alie-Cox signed with the Colts four years ago, he said he saw photos of fans wearing his football jersey in the Stuart C. Siegel Center. Now, each week during the NFL season, VCU fans have been posting about where to watch the Colts and highlight reel catches Alie-Cox has logged.
“I think VCU fans never stopped rooting for Mo as an individual,” basketball fan Judy Snead wrote in a Facebook comment. “As for rooting for the Colts, those who left football a while ago, now have a team, those who can’t leave their team, now have an additional team to support.”
Alie-Cox and the Colts are back in action Oct. 18 against the Cincinnati Bengals at 1 p.m.