INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Coby Fleener has finally found his footing in the NFL.
The Colts' big tight end is catching passes and stretching defenses. He's helping Indy's ground game and providing Andrew Luck with a consistent outlet receiver. He's playing with confidence, becoming productive and emerging as the kind of playmaker the Colts envisioned when they selected him in the 2012 draft.
"In practices, he's fast, he's not thinking, you can tell when a guy's thinking and you don't see that," coach Chuck Pagano said Monday. "You see him out there playing fast, a big, tall fast guy that's athletic and can make plays. He had a great day yesterday (Sunday). Any time you can have an outing like he had and make plays, he's going to build off that and it's all confidence to me."
Part of the evolution is by design.
He played with Luck and for Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton at Stanford, and Fleener seems much more comfortable in his second NFL season than his first. The offense in Indy (3-1) has changed, too. Hamilton has installed a tight-end friendly scheme that includes more power running and shorter, quicker passes, features that take better advantage of Fleener's athleticism.
The other part is that Fleener has taken advantage of his opportunities.
When starting tight end Dwayne Allen went down with a season-ending hip injury in the season opener, Fleener knew he would have a bigger role in the offense, and he has responded.
On Sunday at Jacksonville, Luck threw seven passes to Fleener. He caught five, matching Reggie Wayne's total, for 77 yards and a touchdown. And over the last three weeks, the 6-foot-6, 251-pound Illinois native has caught 11 of 15 balls thrown in his direction.
"I would say that I have to pick up some slack as far as some plays where Dwayne would have been in," Fleener said. "But ultimately, our game plan, I think, has stayed pretty true to what it would have been with Dwayne or without him."
The biggest change, though, has been confidence.
As a rookie, Fleener struggled to hold onto the football. His final numbers — 26 catches for 281 yards — were second among rookie tight ends behind Allen (45, 521). This year, in four games, Fleener already has 12 catches for 166 yards and has matched his touchdown total from last season (two).
He's even stopped the questions about his hands, which were an issue last year and again when he endured a rough patch at training camp.
The Colts have won back-to-back road games, at San Francisco and Jacksonville, by a combined score of 64-10 and by topping 150 yards rushing in both. Indy is now averaging an impressive 4.9 yards per carry. Luck is completing 64.1 percent of his throws and has a quarterback rating of 91.9.
Fleener has had a part in all of it.
"There were a lot of things I wanted to improve in the offseason, blocking being one of them, and just overall body strength. I think that's improved," Fleener said. "Obviously, it's not where I want it to be. Yes, I think there's always room for improvement and that's kind of the path I'll continue on as I grow as a player."
But none of it is a surprise inside the organization.
The Colts always believed pairing Luck with Fleener would be a winning combination, even if it took a little time for them to get back on the same page. They knew Fleener would put the work in to do what he needed to improve, and eventually they would have a stud tight end.
Now they're seeing the results.
"When we started training camp, I felt like that other than Day 1, he came in here with the mindset he was going to have a great training camp, and that would lead to an outstanding season," Pagano said. "I think it's just carrying over."
NOTES: Pagano said linebacker Bjoern Werner, the Colts' first-round draft pick, will be out four to six week with a sprained right foot. Fullback Stanley Havili is expected to miss Sunday's game against Seattle with a mildly sprained ankle, too. ... Center Samson Satele (elbow) is expected to return to the starting lineup Sunday after missing the last two weeks. Pagano would not say whether safety LaRon Landry (ankle) or running back Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) would play this week. ... Indy also signed fullback Robert Hughes to the active roster and waived receiver Griff Whalen.
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