When the starting tight end of a football team goes down with a season-ending injury, it typically spells disaster for that team at the tight end position.
But with Coby Fleener in-house, the Indianapolis Colts kept on trucking.
When Dwayne Allen suffered a season-ending hip injury in a Week 1 win against the Oakland Raiders, the Colts were forced to use Fleener as the lone pass-catching tight end, and he showed up. Fleener went on to post 52 receptions and 608 receiving yards for four touchdowns in a successful 2013 campaign. While the return of Allen is greatly anticipated, Fleener’s presence kept the high-power offense afloat.
Drafted 34th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, Fleener was reunited with his former college quarterback Andrew Luck to revamp a dreadful Colts offense. The two already had an efficient passing rapport, which was a key reason for his early selection in the draft. In 2012, Fleener burst out of the gate with an 82-yard effort in a Week 1 loss against the Chicago Bears, but struggled in weeks to come. He finished the season with 281 yards off of 26 catches and just two touchdowns.
Another full offseason with Luck and the rest of the receiving core paid dividends to Coby Fleener, and the improvement was evident. Reuniting with former offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton helped Fleener become more comfortable with the playbook, which could be seen on more precise route running. The drops that Fleener became famous for almost vanished in 2013 and he’s become a more viable target on mid-range throws down the middle of the field.
While Coby Fleener it’s great at making big catches and has a big body to accomplish that, it’s the little things that still need improvement. Allen certainly is the better blocker of the two, as Fleener has shown incredible weakness in run-blocking against mediocre defenders. While he’s cut down on his drops from 2012, the ball-security is still an issue and it he almost always needs both hands on the ball firmly in order to catch it (unlike Dwayne Allen, his counterpart, who routinely made big catches with his fingertips). Finally, Fleener needs to have a greater awareness around him and focus on moving the chains than breaking the tackles, which he does not do as well as he wants to.
What remains to be seen is whether Fleener’s spike in numbers came as a result of Allen’s absence or whether the improved performance will translate into the 2014 season as a formidable tight end duo. Having both on the field brings up comparisons of the Gronkowski/Hernandez combination of 2011. However, expectations for Allen and Fleener must be tempered, considering that neither has the vertical ability of Gronkowski, nor the versatility of Hernandez. They will make sparks fly on the field, but nothing like the fireworks of the 2011 monster tight end formation of the Patriots.
If Fleener wants success in 2014, he’ll have to fight for playing time with Allen likely re-taking the starting job. Along with playmakers Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncreif cemented in the offense along with a crowded backfield, Fleener will likely be delegated to relief duty, tall receiving sets and red zone sets due to his tall frame (6’6”, 247 lbs). His touchdown number may increase on the goal line while his yardage total decreases because of the little time that he’ll see outside of the 20-yard-line.
Overall, Coby Fleener is a good player and has developed chemistry with Andrew Luck, but this guy will have to prove that 2013 was not a fluke in order to keep his name relevant in 2014. Allen’s return could provide a burst of talent to compliment Fleener, or it could cover him up and make him just one more piece in an offense full of explosive players.