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Role grows: Injury opens door for tight end Fleener

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Coby Fleener could aptly be described as an old second-year NFL player.

The Indianapolis Colts tight end turns 25 on Friday, a day that will be primarily devoted to preparations for Sunday’s game in San Francisco.

Fleener’s maturity and businesslike nature are evident in the aftermath of every Colts game. Win or lose, regular season or preseason, the 6-foot-6, 251-pound Fleener is as level as a pond’s top on a windless day.

The voice is rarely raised, his body language never anything even close to approaching demonstrative.

Case in point: The moments after his team’s 24-20 home loss to Miami.

Fleener’s four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown on Sunday made it one of his finest statistical performances in his fledgling NFL career to date. Yet because Indianapolis came up short on the scoreboard, in his mind it bordered on being for naught.

“Ultimately, different games are going to call for different things. I think it will change week to week,” said Fleener, whose role within the offense increased after tight end Dwayne Allen sustained a hip injury in last week’s opener against Oakland. “It’s tough to lose, but I believe we can learn from it.”

Sunday, in a sense, reintroduced Fleener to Colts fans.

After hauling in 17 receptions for 181 yards in the team’s first five games of 2012, Fleener’s input dropped significantly, in part to missing four games with a shoulder injury. He eventually returned but managed only nine catches in the final seven regular-season contests.

Fleener’s numbers could have been even better Sunday had his 15-yard touchdown reception in the second half actually counted. Indianapolis was whistled for an illegal shift on the play, wiping out Fleener’s efforts and the roundhouse spike of the football he punctuated it with.

It was that kind of day.

It’s anticipated Allen will return either Sunday at San Francisco or for the Colts’ Week 4 game at Jacksonville. His absence against Miami opened the door for not just Fleener but fellow tight end Dominique Jones (one reception, 13 yards), fullback Stanley Havili (2-12) and wide receiver Griff Whalen (2-28).

Whalen’s grabs were the first of his NFL career. Jones’ catch equaled his total in his four games in Indianapolis a year ago.

The chemistry built between Fleener and Colts second-year quarterback Andrew Luck at Stanford, where they were college teammates, is evident in most Indianapolis games in which Fleener plays a prominent role.

Luck would be the first to admit Sunday didn’t qualify as one of his finer performances. Fleener, the Colts’ second-round pick a year ago, is confident the quarterback — Indianapolis’ No. 1 pick in 2012 — will get it together playing less than an hour’s drive north of their old Palo Alto stomping grounds.

“Andrew’s a tough kid. We need to do our best to protect him, obviously,” Fleener said. “He’s a stud. I think you can all see it as well as we can. He’s going to make plays in both the running and passing game.”


T.Y. could have just as easily stood for Total Yardage.

Second-year Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton had himself a day on Sunday with six catches for a career-best 124 yards and one punt return for seven yards.

Hilton was responsible for the juiciest of highlight-reel moments, leaping high over a Dolphins defender to bring in a 47-yard reception deep in Miami territory late in the second quarter.

“It felt pretty good, but you know we got the loss, so I’ve got to do better,” he said.

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