It’s May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Dwayne Allen is walking around Gasoline Alley with a familiar smile on his face, and more importantly, without a limp.
The Indianapolis Colts tight end is happy because he is healthy in this behind-the-scenes tour of the Indianapolis 500. He greets a friend with a handshake and a hug.
The man who underwent surgery on both hips assures he's in a better place. A foot stress fracture that required rehab is also a distant painful memory.
Training camp is still two months out, but Allen can’t wait for his next NFL season. He is confident a third go-around in this physically demanding profession will indeed be his year.
That it has been, fast forwarding five months. On an offense with so many weapons, Allen doesn’t get as many targets as he would have on a bad team. But he makes the most of his opportunities.
His latest of five touchdowns catches might be his best yet, a nifty grab of Andrew Luck’s pass toward the sideline with Cincinnati linebacker Vincent Rey all over him. Allen reaches out over his head to snag the perfect pass, then runs away from Rey down that sideline, his feet just barely in bounds, for a 32-yard touchdown.
The third-quarter score gave the Colts a 17-0 lead in what became an impressive 27-0 win Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The next day on a conference call, Allen admits he’s nowhere near where he eventually will be.
“No, I don’t feel comfortable,” he said. “It was my goal going into the season because of injuries and not having an offseason to train for this season was to get better all season long. I feel like I’ve done a good job with that so far, but I still have a long ways to go to be the player that I want to be at the end of the year. I’ve made a lot of strides, but I’m still not there. I’m still not comfortable. Quite frankly, I hope I’m never comfortable.”
That’s saying something, considering Allen has 21 catches for 305 yards with the five scores. He’s third on the team in receiving yards, fourth in receptions. Again, Luck spreads it around to nine different pass catchers who have at least nine receptions.
Just looking at tight ends, Coby Fleener also has 17 catches for 214 yards and three TDs. And Jack Doyle has nine receptions for 58 yards with one TD. That the Colts have nine TD receptions just among the three tight ends speaks volumes.
But Allen doesn’t hesitate to share what he needs to work on.
“Not to be cliché, I say I need to improve on everything, which I believe is true though,” he said. “My route running and run after catch, I have to continue increase my speed in route running and getting in and out of cuts. But also my run after catch, what I’m doing with the ball after I catch it. Am I turning up field, am I having a little bit of burst? Those are some things I can work on in practice and get better at as the year goes on.”
The Colts utilize the running back tandem of Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw for more than just rushing. Six of Bradshaw’s seven TDs are on pass catches. That means fewer touches for tight ends. And it also means the tight ends must be reliable blockers.
“We in the tight end room understand that we have dynamic playmakers outside and in the backfield,” Allen said. “So would love to have as many targets as (Rob) Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas and the rest of the gang, but that’s just not possible. We’ve realized that another way we can impact the game is through being excellent blockers.
“Whether it’s in pass protection to help out the offensive line so Andrew can have more time to hit those dynamic playmakers or in the run game, being a force in the run game, so we can churn off more yards, that’s our role. We embrace it and we love it.”
Head coach Chuck Pagano has seen Allen’s gradual improvement during the season.
“Yeah, it’s the same thing that you guys are seeing, knock the rust off, so to speak,” Pagano said Monday. “Continues to improve with every week and every game. Does a great of taking care of his body. Over the course of three years now, he’s really learned how to be a pro and what you have to do to prepare yourself to play well every Sunday. He does a good job of that and he practices extremely hard. That’s why he’s playing good.”
When the Colts get in the red zone, Allen has become one of Luck’s popular targets. At 6-3 and 265, the tight end has the blend of size and speed to shed clingy linebackers as well as run away from safeties or cornerbacks.
“Going into the year, honestly I did not think that that was going to be something that the team would utilize me as,” he said of being a target inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. “It’s always something that I’ve believed that I’ve been capable of. You saw me in training camp. You saw me in the spring and I was not the player that I am now and that I’m going to be towards the end of the season.
“I had no idea that I was going to be utilized in that way, but I’m just very fortunate and thankful that my body was able to heal the way it has and the coaching staff was able to have the confidence to put me out there in those red-zone situations.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.