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INDIANAPOLIS – There's a question about the Indianapolis Colts offense that some people overlook, and the answer could change a season: Is tight end Dwayne Allen back to his old self?
Allen was lost for the season with a hip injury in the first game last season, suffering the first significant injury of his career at any level. When he went down, the Colts lost a pass receiver, a blocker, a fullback option and an old soul in a young man's body.
In short, the loss of Allen left a gaping hole. If he's back fully this season, he adds another layer of options for the Colts offense.
His movement and play in the Colts' preseason 23-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Saturday seemed the smoothest yet. He caught three passes for 15 yards. Unspectacular, maybe. Necessary, definitely.
“Every game I've taken a little step further and a little step further and the coaches have done a great job monitoring my reps in practice and making sure I continue to rehab the right way,” Allen said. “This is an ongoing process and you couldn't just throw me in the fire. We're two weeks from the start of the regular season, so it's time for me to really start getting in a groove, and it starts in practice.”
The Colts are 0-3 in the preseason heading to a final warmup game at Cincinnati on Thursday night. Typically, projected starters in the regular season see little if any playing time in that game.
Indy never found an offensive groove (or defensive groove, for that matter) in the loss to the Saints. Quarterback Andrew Luck's touch was off and the Saints quarterback pressure was on. The Colts starters had one touchdown drive, with Luck hitting a wide-open tight end Coby Fleener, and one solid 2-minute style drive that ended up in a field goal when they Colts were stymied in the red zone.
Preseason games are a coming-attraction clips compared to the regular-season games' feature films.
“We didn't execute the game plan the way we wanted or move the ball the way we wanted to,” Allen said. “But, we got Reggie (Wayne) out there and he was able to get some reps in and we got a glimpse of what the first-team offense will look like and what it can do.”
Positives for the Colts were there in small doses. Wayne caught two passes, both of which were erased by penalties. He looked terrific in both cases. Rookie offensive lineman Jack Mewhort returned to play, and he seemed solid, as did center Jonotthan Harrison, who is making a case for the job while Khaled Holmes is out with an ankle injury.
Allen has played all preseason, in limited doses, but looked his best so far on Saturday. Allen's devotion to returning to full health can't be questioned. He sets goals and attacks them, as shown by the fact he continued to study after turning pro and went back for his graduation at Clemson University during the middle of this training camp.
“I've never been hurt in my career, so this is totally new for me, going through this whole process,” Allen said. “What's great is I have a staff that has handled players coming off injury, and I have different players around the locker room who have dealt with injuries and I can bounce stuff off of them.”
Allen was asked about the return of Wayne and how much that emotionally lifted the entire team. When Wayne was introduced before the game, the crowd noise was tremendous.
Allen expects Wayne to be back at full strength, but also points to the need for more from everyone around him.
“It's awesome having Reggie out there; he's an offensive leader for us,” Allen said. “When he's playing at an extremely high level, so are we offensively.
“But it's about finding other playmakers similar to Reggie to get us going, too. Is it T.Y. (Hilton)? Is it Hakeem (Nicks)? Is it Coby? Is it myself? Whoever it is, we need to find it, because Reggie can't be the only guy.”
If Allen can step his play up a notch above his rookie level two years ago (45 catches, 521 yards, three touchdowns), the Colts offense will be more diverse and more potent moving forward. Allen's size (6-foot-3, 265 pounds) and versatility give him the chance to become a reliable, go-to force for Luck to use.
Allen says it's time for him to start getting in a groove. He's right. It's essential to the lofty goals the Colts have in mind.