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ANDERSON – Coby Fleener knows how to straddle the thin line between camaraderie and competition.
Not only is the third-year Indianapolis Colts tight end fighting for attention from quarterback Andrew Luck amidst a loaded offense, he's in somewhat of a one-on-one battle with Dwayne Allen for the No.1 tight end position.
They'll be on the field together at times, but not always, especially when offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton veers toward his love of the fullback.
“Selfishly, you want to see yourself on the field,” Fleener said. “Dwayne and I both want to be on the field as much as possible. All the guys want to be on the field. There's an atmosphere of competition.”
Fleener spent last season as the primary tight end after Allen was sidelined with an injury. The results were good but with room for improvement. Fleener caught 52 passes for 608 yards and four touchdowns. He's big (6-foot-6, 251 pounds) and familiar to Luck, having been teammates at Stanford University. That offensive familiarity extends to the playbook developed by Hamilton, who also came from Stanford.
If Allen returns healthy, however, he could move past Fleener. He had better blocking skills coming into the league, although it remains to be seen where he stands after missing a season. Both tight ends have made big plays in their brief pro careers.
“I don't think my role is going to change that much,” Fleener said. “There's a limited number of plays. Dwayne will come back and pick up where he left off. We'll split time in some instances and both be on the field in others.”
Fleener says an effective Allen, along with the wide receivers, could actually be a benefit to Fleener's production.
“Having Dwayne out there is like T.Y. (Hilton), Reggie (Wayne), Hakeem (Nicks) – it's another threat the defense has to deal with,” Fleener said. “So the more attention they give Dwayne and the less they give me sounds like a great plan for me.”
Allen garnered attention with his declaration the Colts offense will be more “exotic” this season.
A better word might be “diverse,” as the Colts will be under Hamilton for the second-straight season. The returning players' knowledge of the offense will allow more plays to be added to the foundation already in place. Luck has a better feel for his teammates and their skills, with only two new faces in Nicks and rookie receiver Donte Moncrief.
“(We) like tight ends around here and, more importantly, versatile tight ends,” Hamilton said. “We want to try and find ways to create paranoia and matchup problems for our opponents, and a guy like Dwayne, Coby, as well as all of our receivers, they'll do just that.”
Luck has made it a point to say how he feels the team must improve its production on third down, a point in offensive drives where it will be interesting to see if Allen or Fleener or both will be on the field as options.
“Despite being a small percentage of the game, those (third-down) plays are really impactful on the outcome,” Fleener said. “We need to improve on those. I think we were mediocre last year and we really want to move toward the top of the NFL.”
The Colts can move up if they continue to make the most of that tenuous mix of competition and camaraderie.