It’s probably safe to say that the Indianapolis Colts have been blessed with some pretty good tight ends over the 59-year history of the franchise.
Jim Mutscheller, John Mackey, Ken Dilger, Marcus Pollard and Dallas Clark were among the best at the position when they played. Mackey was a 1992 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, attesting to his immense talent and the overall impact that he had on the National Football League.
Those are the very large shoes that a pair of rookies — second-round draft pick Coby Fleener and third-round selection Dwayne Allen — have to try and fit into heading into the 2012 NFL season.
Fleener and Allen were the top two tight end prospects heading into last April’s draft. It was a position that was in dire need of help due to the dual losses of Clark (released and signed with Tampa Bay) and Jacob Tamme (signed with Denver as an unrestricted free agent).
Both rookies are expected to be thrown into the fire early. The Colts were one of the first teams in the NFL to use a double-tight-end alignment on a regular basis under former offensive coordinator Tom Moore. Moore used Dilger and Pollard, then Pollard and Clark and later to a lesser degree with Clark and Tamme, Ben Utecht, Bryan Fletcher and Tom Santi.
New England coach Bill Belichick saw the success that Indianapolis had with two-tight-end sets and decided to jump on board. The Patriots upped the ante considerably the last couple of seasons with their use of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Now the Colts are back with Fleener and Allen. Both are big (6-foot-6, 252 and 6-3, 255 respectively) and athletic. Both have deceptive speed. Fleener is a taller version of Clark, someone who can be used in tight as a blocker, flanked outside as a standup receiver or be used as an H-Back. Allen, meanwhile, will be used as an end-line blocker and receiver who will also line up as an H-Back or fullback on occasion.
First-year offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is a longtime disciple of Moore, having worked on the Colts’ offensive coaching staff for three seasons (1998-2000). Arians is also a big proponent of using a two-tight-end system, having had a lot of success with it in Pittsburgh when he was the offensive coordinator there (2007-11).
His desire to use both Fleener and Allen on a regular basis this season is a given. Arians might also find ways to throw in one of the team’s other tight ends, such as Kyle Miiler, Andre Smith or Dominque Jones for a few plays. Anything to create a defensive mismatch.
“We’ll play two or three tight ends. A tight end for us could play wide receiver, running back, fullback. His role will change depending on the skill set. And these guys are all very multiple in their skill set so we can use them in a lot of different ways,” the Colts’ offensive coordinator said recently.
“So I like to think back to a Kenny Dilger or a Marcus Pollard, that type of skill set where we can split them out and have them in the backfield and see how the other guys come in and keep growing. So the sky’s the limit for their ability.”
Arians’ history of highlighting the tight end position in his offensive game plans brings smiles to the faces of this year’s draft picks.
“Initially it’s, ‘Where do I fit?’ Then when I found out that Bruce Arians was the offensive coordinator I knew exactly where I fit into this offense and where he sees me in this offense,” Allen said late last week. “So now it’s just going. We’re two different guys. We’re two different types of tight ends. Like how can we co-exist on the field and what do we have to offer?”
Fleener, a college teammate of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck at Stanford, is confident that a one-two punch with Allen will work out just fine.
“I think coach Arians has done an awesome job of kind of utilizing our strengths in a way that both of us feel very comfortable in moving inside, outside, all around. I think he’s done an awesome job of using us in all of those routes,” he voiced.
The Colts primary play caller likes his new tight ends just fine.
“I think they’re both complete. They both can block, they both can catch, they can split out wide. Dwayne is more suitable to put in the backfield than Coby. Between the two we can cover all our bases and be multiple in all our different sets without substitutions,” Arians said.
“Most of it is how much they can handle. With their ability we can come up with different packages every week with two or three guys, and have them in a lot of places where we think we can create a mismatch. We found a good one with Coby and a linebacker in the red zone [during a recent practice]. Andrew found him for a touchdown. So it’s just trying to create mismatches with those guys, either lined up at tight end or out wide.”
• Watch out for Allen — Fleener may have been the topic of conversation after the draft, but the Colts’ offensive coordinator reminds observers not to forget how good Allen is.
“I’ve been really pleased with him. His strength is evident. You know, it’s very hard for a young tight end to come in and block at this level. And he’s shown an outstanding effort and ability to do it,” Arians said.
“Everybody thinks of Coby as a pass catcher, but [Allen] has got really good hands and he’s probably as sudden a guy with the ball in his hands as I’ve seen in a while at tight end.”
• Luck, quarterback updates — The Colts’ No. 1 draft pick got a bit more work Sunday afternoon as the team’s coaching staff tried to catch up after having to move Saturday’s afternoon workout indoors due to thunderstorms.
Luck completed 28 of 41 passes — that’s the most pass attempts that he’s had in a training camp practice — with five touchdown passes. He did not throw an interception.
Backup quarterback Drew Stanton was intercepted by Robert Mathis during a coverage drill. Rookie quarterback Chandler Harnish served up two interceptions during the practice, both to former Purdue cornerback Brandon King.
• Injury list — Wide receiver Donnie Avery suffered an apparent hip/upper thigh injury after making a diving, twisting catch in the end zone for a touchdown on a throw by Stanton. His left leg was wrapped in an elastic bandage and Avery did not see any more practice time the rest of the day.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano said that team doctors were going to take a closer look but that initial reports seemed to indicate that the injury wasn’t serious.
Sitting out were cornerbacks Justin King (hip flexor), Buddy Jackson and Chris Rucker (flu-like symptoms), wide receiver Jarred Fayson and safety Tom Zbikowski (rest).
• Remembering the Reid family — News that Garrett Reid, the 29-year son of Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, had died early Sunday morning in a residence hall at the Eagles’ training camp facility hit the Colts organization hard.
Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson worked for nine years for Philadelphia in a variety of scouting and front-office assignments. He’s a close friend of the Reid family. Also, three Colts players — offensive tackle Winston Justice, inside linebacker Moise Fokou and outside linebacker Greg Lloyd — had previously played for the Eagles.
“I am deeply saddened by this tragic news. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Reid family. They are a special family led by two extremely strong and loving parents in Andy and his wife Tammy,” Grigson said in a written statement Sunday morning. “I ask that the entire Colts nation and football fans everywhere lift Coach Reid and his family up in prayer during this difficult time.”
Pagano had quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen lead the team in a post-practice prayer for the Reid family Sunday.
“We lost a family member. We lost a brother. You know, we’re all together in this thing in the NFL. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Reid family. We’re thinking about them. I talked about this all the time, about family,” the Colts head coach said. “We’ve got to compete against each other week in and week out every Sunday. But at the end of the day, when the gun goes off and the game’s over and we shake hands, it’s about sportsmanship. Our thoughts and prayers go out to coach Reid and Tammy and the rest of the Reid family.”