Why the Colts Need to Get Coby Fleener More Involved in the Offense

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Why the Colts Need to Get Coby Fleener More Involved in the Offense
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts have lost so many key players on offense in the 2013 season, which means that they desperately need other guys to step up. 

Coby Fleener is going to have to be one of those players, and the Colts are going to need to get him more involved in the offense.

After beating the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football, the Colts improved to 5-2 on the year, but it wasn't all positive in the win.  Reggie Wayne went down with a knee injury, and Adam Schefter confirmed that it was a torn ACL.

Ian Rapoport from NFL.com reported on Tuesday that Wayne had officially been put on injured reserve.

It's clearly the biggest loss of the season for the Colts, but it hasn't been the only big one.  Taking a look at this list, the number of offensive guys hurt is starting to really pile up.

Colts 2013 Key Offensive Players Injured
Player Injury
Donald Thomas Torn quad, on injured reserve
Dwayne Allen Hip, on injured reserve
Vick Ballard Torn ACL, on injured reserve
Ahmad Bradshaw Neck, on injured reserve
Samson Satele Knee, left game against Denver
Reggie Wayne Torn ACL, on injured reserve

Pro Football Reference

With all of the injuries, Fleener now has an opportunity to be a big weapon for the Colts, and they need to use him.

Coming out of college, the Colts drafted Fleener in the second round to give Andrew Luck a familiar weapon.  He was a huge part of Stanford's offense, catching 62 passes for 1,101 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final two years there.  He was one of the most explosive tight ends in college football, and at 6'6'', 247 pounds, he provided an incredible mismatch.

I spoke with Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller about what he thought of Fleener coming out of college, and this is what he had to say:

I had Fleener ranked as my No. 1 tight end in the 2012 draft class. With his size and agility, he looked like a red-zone matchup NFL teams dream about. He was a finished product at Stanford, showing the size, speed and strength combination needed to be a top-tier tight end. While he didn't have great yard-after-catch ability, he's elusive enough in his routes and was able to separate from defenders with his size, technique and speed.

Fleener's rookie season wasn't what a lot of people were hoping for.  He played in just 12 games, dealing with a shoulder injury, grabbing just 26 receptions with two touchdowns.  

Coming into training camp, Fleener had the chance to be a big part of the offense.  I took around five trips up to Anderson, Ind. to get a look at Fleener during camp, and I was really impressed with what I saw.  He was big, strong, fast and had a real connection with Luck.  But it didn't translate in the preseason, as he struggled to stay healthy and didn't look comfortable when he was able play.

Things are starting to look up, however.  He's played in all seven games, grabbing three touchdowns and 235 yards receiving on 22 catches.  He hasn't put up monster numbers in a game yet, but he's making big plays when it matters.

Colts fans should feel confident in Fleener's abilities, as he has a chance to be a playmaker at the tight end position much like Dallas Clark was.  Looking at the two side by side in their first two seasons, you can see that it took Clark some time to get going as well. 

Coby Fleener vs. Dallas Clark, First Two Seasons
Player (Year) GP Rec Yds Avg TD
Fleener (2012) 12 26 281 10.8 2
Clark (2003) 10 29 340 11.7 1
Fleener (2013*) 16 50 537 10.7 7
Clark (2004) 15 25 423 16.9 5

* = 2013 Projected Stats by ESPN.com

With Pep Hamilton as the new offensive coordinator, he is giving Fleener a chance to make some plays this season, and there are some plays that Pep may need to call even more now that Wayne is out for the year and the team is going to have to rely on other targets.

With his size and speed, Fleener possesses an ideal mismatch against most defenses, much like Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham.  I'm not comparing him to either of those players at this point, but he is that breed of athletic tight end that can make plays against linebackers and defensive backs.

Let's go back an take a look at Fleener's first career touchdown, which came back in 2012 against the Detroit Lions, and show how he can match up against linebackers.

Screenshot courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

Here, the Colts are running a "12" or Ace personnel grouping in a Unit formation with Dwayne Allen off of the line.  They run a play-action fake, with Fleener essentially running an out-n-up route to the end zone.

Screenshot courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

DeAndre Levy is forced to cover Fleener.  He does a pretty good job not biting on the play-action fake and staying on Fleener to start the route.

Screenshot courtesy of NFL Game Rewind
Screenshot courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

However, Fleener is able to get just enough separation as he cuts up the field, and with a great pass from Luck, he is able to show off his athleticism and snatch the ball out of the air in the end zone for his first career TD.

Defenses as a whole struggle as well to guard Fleener, especially in zone schemes.  Defenses have to plan on covering the outside threats, even with Wayne out, and that gives Fleener room in the middle of the field to get in between defenders and make big plays.

We've seen this multiple times this season, but I want to take a look at this play against the Miami Dolphins where Fleener was able to get behind the zone coverage and make a big 40-yard reception in the first quarter.

Screenshot courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

This time the Colts are using "11" or Posse personnel with three receivers in a Doubles Exchange formation, with the slot receiver on the line of scrimmage and both the X and Z receivers off of the line.

Screenshot courtesy of NFL Game Rewind
Screenshot courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

Olivier Vernon drops into zone coverage with a single-high safety while the outside receivers are dealing with man coverage.  Since Vernon is a defensive end and isn't the strongest player in coverage, Fleener is able to quickly get behind him and in front of the safety.

Screenshot courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

Fleener is then able to use his quick burst and strength to push off and keep the safety off of him as he continues to rack up yards and winds up with a big 40-yard gain.

In order for Fleener to be effective in the Colts offense, they're going to need to use him less as a traditional tight end and more like the team used Clark back in the day.  With Wayne out and a lack of a truly talented No. 3 receiver, it would make sense to utilize Fleener often in the slot or as a flanker, much like how the New Orleans Saints used Jimmy Graham.  

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Fleener has a 1.2 grade in the passing game, but a minus-3.9 grade when run blocking.  The Colts have tended to use Fleener like they planned on using Dwayne Allen, but they are two very different types of tight ends, and it's time for the team to use him more like a receiver.

With his size, athleticism and versatility, the Colts need to get Fleener even more involved in the offense, especially without Wayne.  With what I've seen on film from him, I truly believe that Fleener can be as good, if not better, than Clark was during his time in Indianapolis.

 

Follow Tyler on Twitter @TylerDBrooke

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