Next tight end up, Coby Fleener is ready

Third-year pro has made noticeable progress and should be counted upon more with Dwayne Allen sidelined for Sunday.

Coby Fleener can’t recall his last drop.

That’s because the Indianapolis Colts tight end hasn’t had one in a while. And even if he did, the third-year pro has learned more mistakes typically occur when dwelling on past ones.

“I don’t remember when my last drop was,” he said Wednesday, “but if I did, I’d have to kick myself for remembering because you have to try to forget about it.”

Perhaps that explains why Fleener is coming off his best NFL game. Seven times he was targeted last Sunday night. He caught each pass.

He showed excellent footwork for a 6-foot-6, 251-pound pass catcher in dragging a second foot just in bounds for a 22-yard sideline grab. He caught another in traffic, took a shot and hung on. How many times in the previous two years did he not come down with those passes when quickly smacked after the ball arrived?

Dwayne Allen being ruled out for Sunday’s home game versus Jacksonville means Fleener is the next tight end up after a career-high 144 yards receiving in a home loss to New England.

“You’re always kind of questioning yourself in the NFL,” he said. “Am I good enough? Am I ready? When you have a game like that, it makes you feel good. But ultimately, it wasn’t good enough so you move on to Jacksonville.”

Remember the last time Fleener faced the Jaguars? He dropped a touchdown pass in a 44-17 road win.

That was in Week 3, a long time ago. But it’s the drop many remember, when criticism was probably the most prevalent, when the former second-round pick was asked about it more than ever before.

Fleener later caught a touchdown pass during that same game, and secured the ball with both arms as he scored. While Allen has led the Colts with seven touchdown receptions, Fleener hasn’t been targeted as often and his numbers weren't so noticeable until the last game. But he’s been reliable.

“I don’t know if it will ever slow down,” he said of the NFL’s faster game pace. “The guys in this league are so fast, you just have to understand that being open now is standing next to the guy whereas in college, the guy was on the other side of the room. As you kind of grow and understand that, the better you can become at it.”

He’s already caught four touchdown passes, as many as he had last season, and has 29 receptions for 439 yards. Allen’s absence should translate to more chances. Fleener caught 52 passes for 608 yards last season, when Allen played only one game before landing on injured reserve with a hip injury.

Aside from playing more consistently with fewer looks on a No. 1 NFL passing offense with so many weapons this season, Fleener’s 15.1 yards per catch are a noticeable jump. His long was 45 yards against the Patriots, but he’s also had receptions of 32, 30, 26, 24 and 23 yards.

“He’s playing at an extremely high level right now, and it’s a byproduct of what he’s doing on the practice field, what he’s doing in the film room,” head coach Chuck Pagano said. “He’s putting the time in, the necessary time, and he’s playing big, playing physical. He’s better than he’s ever been in the run game, and obviously you see what he can do in the pass game.”

The guy throwing the passes to Fleener has noticed improvement, too.

“Coby’s always steadily improved,” quarterback Andrew Luck said Monday. “I like to think all of us in that (2012) rookie class and anybody here has gotten better every year, every game, every practice.

“Coby, he’s a stud. He can do so many things very, very well. He creates, I think, such a tough matchup problem and it certainly showed (Sunday) night.”

Fleener played with Luck at Stanford.

“I think that considering they’ve played together for quite some time now, both Andrew and Coby, I don’t think that trust is an issue,” offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said Thursday.

Fleener smiled when teased that he just needed to pay off his college buddy to get more looks.

“I wouldn’t be above that,” he said with a chuckle.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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