When the Colts drafted Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck last year, it seemed like bringing in his best college target in Coby Fleener would result in a dynamic passing attack.
Well, the Colts did have a great passing attack, but it wasn't because of Fleener.
In fact, Fleener only caught 26 passes for 281 yards and 2 scores, in part due to missing time because of injury. Fleener played in 12 games, starting 10, and caught a pass in 11 of them. Still, Fleener was slowed by injuries in his rookie season and had nowhere near the impact that many had hoped.
Fellow rookie tight end Dwayne Allen, however, greatly exceeded expectations and was clearly the Colts' best tight end by season's end. The question remained whether Coby Fleener could make the transition needed from year one to year two. That was answered when the Colts replaced Bruce Arians (who left to become the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals) as offensive coordinator with Pep Hamilton.
Hamilton was previously the offensive coordinator at at Stanford, where he worked with Luck, Fleener, and wideout Griff Whalen (who we highlighted a week ago). Fleener excelled at Stanford in Hamilton's West Coast offense, and in his senior season he caught 34 passes for 667 yards (an average of 19.2 yards per reception) and 10 scores. Can he give the Colts that kind of production under Hamilton at the NFL level? I don't think there is any reason to think he can't.
In the first place, it seems that the Colts may try to get Fleener into better situations to act as a receiving tight end, which is where he excels at. Indy Star writer Vic Ryckert was listening to Ryan Grigson's conference call with Colts' season ticket holders just a few days ago, and he tweeted the following:
Caller asking @ moving fleenor to WR. Grigson says he plans to use him more out in space #Colts— Vic Ryckaert (@VicRyc) March 25, 2013
Aside from the fact that he spelled Fleener's name wrong (let's just call it a typo), the tweet indicates that the Colts will be more creative in getting Fleener into situations where he can produce even more, which could mean big things for the tight end. Also, I expect Fleener to get more looks in the red zone. As a 6-6, 252 pound receiving threat, Fleener can go up and get balls and can prove to be a very dangerous red zone target. Andrew Luck knows this as well as anybody, and I expect him and Pep Hamilton will find ways to optimize that talent in 2013.
Will Coby Fleener emerge as the better of the two tight ends on the Colts' roster (along with Dwayne Allen)? I don't know, and honestly I hope the answer is no. I think that Fleener is poised for a big year, and if he isn't even the best player on the roster that would mean that Allen would also be having a great year. I think Allen (and Fleener too, even) has pro bowl potential, and I hope that he can continue to develop on a surprisingly strong rookie campaign.
Either way, Allen's impact may not be as noticeable as Fleener's in 2013, as Allen is a much more complete tight end while Fleener is primarily a receiver. If the Colts play to his strengths (and who better to do that than Pep Hamilton?), then Fleener will have a huge year in 2013. If he can stay healthy, the connection between Luck and Fleener that everyone was talking about last offseason could really begin to show, especially with Pep Hamilton coming in and installing the offense that the tandem thrived in at Stanford.
The talk recently among Colts Nation has been who the team would add at wide receiver, and even now they may still add players there. But also, I think Fleener could really step in there. The wide receiver position becomes a much less pressing need when the pass-catching tight end can match the production of a wideout. Fleener very well could next year, especially in the area of touchdowns.
That's where I think his numbers will improve the most - in the area of scores. He only caught two touchdowns last year, and if he stays healthy I expect that number to increase significantly in 2013.
If Coby Fleener can be the player the Colts drafted him to be, Andrew Luck will be poised for an even bigger year than he already was. Adding Pep Hamilton should help Fleener perhaps more than anybody else, and as a result the second-year tight end could be staring at a big year. Between Fleener and Dwayne Allen, the Colts could have one of the best tight end duos in the NFL. And what better way for the offense to thrive than giving Andrew Luck two big, dangerous targets in Fleener and Allen?
They could be a major focus of the Colts' in 2013. It is certainly something to keep an eye on, even months before the season like it is now.