Coby Fleener on the Offense and His Improvement
With so many standout performances in Sunday’s waxing of the woeful Jaguars, one that, while not wholly unnoticed, may have slipped through the cracks a bit was that of Coby Fleener. The second year tight end finished with 5 catches for 77 yards, including a wide-open 31-yard touchdown reception. Fleener acknowledged that it can actually be a challenge to reel in a pass in that situation – where either a routine snag or a drop can be greatly magnified.
“I think it’s kind of the idea in basketball, layups are some of the hardest buckets to make,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you really have to focus and make sure you do all the things, look it all the way in and focus all the way until the end. You can’t relax on those plays. Thankfully Andrew (Luck) made an awesome throw, the line gave him enough time to make it out there and it looked good for us.”
Since Dwayne Allen went down for the season with a hip injury, Fleener has been thrust into a greater role in the offense – not that his role was ever intended to be small.
On his wider ranging responsibilities, Fleener said, “Anytime a guy like Dwayne (Allen) goes down who makes such a big impact for the offense, other guys are going to have to fill in here and there. So yeah, I would say my role has expanded a little bit.”
The 6’ 6” TE has responded well with big games against Miami and Jacksonville pushing his four game stat line to 12 receptions on 18 targets for 166 yards and 2 touchdowns. Not to place too much value on paces, but that would translate to 48 catches for 664 yards and 8 touchdowns over 16 games.
Having to take on so much of Dwayne Allen’s job has meant more blocking situations for Fleener as well (19 run blocking and 3 pass blocking plays on Sunday alone), which, among other things, was something he honed in on during the offseason.
“I would say that there’s a lot of things I wanted to improve in the offseason, blocking being one of them, and just overall body strength,” he said. “I think that’s improved. 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.”
It’s nice to see a stronger, more consistent Fleener (catching a veteran-like 67% of his targets as well), and it’s great to know he is still working to cultivate his skills.
One thing that has undoubtedly helped Fleener has been the implementation of nearly the same offense he played in at Stanford. One reporter asked him if the Colts offense was beginning to feel more like that of Stanford now. “I don’t know,” Fleener responded, “I think until we can get 10 offensive linemen on the field, it’s its own entity (laughs). It is and it isn’t. There’s some things that you just can’t translate, you can’t bring with you from college to the pros, so it’s similar I would say, but it’s still different.”
Oh please, not 10 offensive linemen. He was obviously joking, but he was quick to point out that some elements and nuances of the NFL preclude using a system identical to what he and Andrew Luck played in for the Cardinal. “The field size is different, so the hashes make a difference in the passing game, make a difference in the running game,” Fleener said. “In college we did multiple offensive linemen sets a lot more, and I think the point of that is in college if you have a lot more bigger guys you can just overpower people. But in the NFL, everybody’s big and strong, so I think that’s kind of called for more variation in our offense.”
While it sounds as though the Colts offense is still finding its way a bit, They’ve certainly managed to do a fine job along the way, helping the team to a 3-1 record so far with the 4th ranked rushing attack in the league pushing the offense’s overall rank to 10th (373.8 yds/gm). And while Indy’s passing attack hasn’t put up as many yards as expected yet, they are ranked 10th by Football Outsiders in DVOA (the offense is 4th overall at 26.2%, a vast improvement over last year’s -2.9%).
Next Up: the Seattle Seahawks
Though the team certainly is getting better, next week’s opponent poses a significantly stiffer challenge than Jacksonville. The Seattle Seahawks are widely regarded as one of the league’s most talented teams, with few if any exploitable weaknesses.
Just as he was prepared for last week’s ‘trap game’ potential, Head Coach Chuck Pagano knows the gravity of the test that lies before them on Sunday. Pagano’s unabridged thoughts on Seattle: “Great football team. Pete Carroll is one of the best coaches in the league,” he began. “They’ve got a roster that is filled with excellent football players on both sides of the ball. They’ve got returners. They’ve got a quarterback that’s a nightmare to contain and handle. They’ve got a runner that’s unbelievable. They’ve got wide receivers that can all make plays on the outside.
“Their defense is as good as there is in the National Football League. They play fast. They’re physical. Secondary that is huge. They’ve got two corners that are 6-3 whatever it is. Kam Chancellor is a big safety and Earl Thomas running around making plays. They got ball players all over the place and they play hard and they play fast and they play with an attitude and they got a swagger. They’ve won a lot of games and they’re 4-0. We got our hands full.”
While the Seahawks have looked downright human on the road, where they’ve outscored opponents 35-27 (as opposed to a staggering 74-20 at home), the Colts aren’t expecting any gifts. That mentality, coupled with the manner in which they dispatched their last two road opponents should give Colts fans (as well as the team) some cautious optimism heading into an exceedingly tough four game stretch (Seahawks, @ Chargers, Broncos, @ Texans).
A Few Good Quotes: The All-Darius Butler Edition
– Butler on taking interceptions to the house for two straight games in Jacksonville: “Like I told the guys here, it’s a home game for me. It’s the game that usually, a lot of my family that doesn’t get to come up to Indy or wherever we’re playing every week, they can definitely come to Jacksonville. They only live about five hours away in Ft. Lauderdale so a lot of family comes in. It’s always; I love the atmosphere just playing in my home state. I hope special things happen every time I go down there.”
– Butler on the players referring to the secondary as the “No Fly Zone:” “That’s just what we go by. We feel like when we go out there on Sundays, we’re competing, and everybody has their matchup on every down. That’s what we come out there to do.”
– Butler giving props to the front seven and the pass rush: “It’s played a huge role. The more pressure those guys get on the quarterback, the easier it makes for us. The better we can hold up on our back end whether it’s man-to-man, press, zone, whatever it is. The better we hold up on the back end then the more time we give to the guys up front. We feed off each other game to game and we depend on the front seven as much as they depend on us.”
– Butler on Pagano’s role in helping and teaching the secondary as well as in his development: “He plays a big role. He’s a secondary guy. He’s been a secondary guy pretty much his whole career. He always comes over and has things to say. Like I said, (Greg) Manusky is the D-coordinator, (Mike) Gillhamer is the position coach, but Chuck (Pagano), he’s been a DB guy his whole life. He was obviously one of the first guys I talked to when I got here. He talked about how he liked me coming out of college and things along those lines. Like I said, he believes in me from the top down, Greg (Manusky), everybody. That helps you play faster and helps you play more loose. I know personally that’s when I play my best football.”
– Lastly, when asked if there is a secret to his ability to come up with pick sixes, gave credit to Vontae Davis for tipping the pass that he returned for his fourth career touchdown: “Not really,” he said. “They come in bunches. So as long as you keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing and guys are doing their job. That play really came from Vontae (Davis) doing his job. Vontae bit on (Cecil) Shorts and him getting the break up that ricocheted and everybody does the tip drill. It just translated to the game. Like I said, we feed off each other. Vontae made a play and I finished it off.”