So, Coby Fleener, given the loss of three offensive starters to season-ending injuries in the last six days, how do you avoid feeling as if a dark cloud is building over the Colts?
“Don’t talk to the media, I guess,” he said, forcing a smile. “I haven’t thought about the dark cloud until you just mentioned it.”
The cloud is there, all right. And the Colts can only hope it isn’t the harbinger of a gathering storm.
The latest to fall was the biggest thus far. Tight end Dwayne Allen, whose versatility and toughness as a blocker and receiver – not to mention his gregarious personality in the locker room – are invaluable to the Colts, will require injury on his injured hip and miss the rest of this season.
Allen follows running back Vick Ballard (torn ACL in practice last Thursday) and left guard Donald Thomas (torn quadriceps muscle in Sunday’s 24-20 loss to Miami) to the team’s burgeoning injured reserve list.
“My heart hurt for him, sick a little bit because he loves football so much, he’s such a football guy,” Andrew Luck said. “Same feeling when Vick went down, same feeling when I was told Donald Thomas wouldn’t be able to play the rest of the year.
“You have to almost be a little bit, not cold-blooded, but you say, ‘OK, that really stinks but we’ve got to move on now as a team.’ Those guys understand that. The guys that are going to fill in for them understand that. It’s going to be a collective unit effort as an offense to stay on track.”
After missing most of training camp and preseason with a foot problem, Allen was injured during the third quarter of the regular-season opener against Oakland. Leaping for a deflected pass, Allen was hit in the air by Raiders defensive back Tyvon Branch, landed hard and limped back to the huddle. Though he remained in the game temporarily, he was unable to finish.
Allen’s 20-yard touchdown that put the Colts up 14-0 in their eventual 21-17 win will stand as his only catch of the season.
“He’s a tough, tough, tough kid,” Coach Chuck Pagano said. “Once we got the thing evaluated and we saw exactly what the doctors, what they saw in there and what needed to be done, for the long term, for the big picture, it’s the right thing to do right now.”
With Allen out, Coby Fleener will get the opportunity to prove the Colts were right when they invested a second-round pick in him last year. Fleener caught 26 passes and missed four games in an uneven rookie season but had a strong performance against Miami last week with four receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown. He would’ve had a second TD had his 15-yard catch from Luck not been wiped out by an illegal shift penalty.
“I think we all saw why we took Coby where we took him, what he can do, last week,” Pagano said. “Played an excellent football game not only in the pass game, he blocked well. He’ll continue to do that. He knows his role is obviously going to expand now. We’ve got all the confidence in the world that he’ll play at a high level for us, a winning level.”
Not only will Fleener’s role be increased, but Dominique Jones will be at least a short-term fill-in. Recently signed Jack Doyle could get a look, as could Justice Cunningham, whose days on the practice squad appear numbered.
Cunningham is the strongest blocker in the group. Jones has versatility, but not Allen’s physicality. Doyle is considered a solid blocker but raw as a receiver.
“We all know what Dwayne brought to the table as an inline blocker, point of attack, kind of the hammer, stud tight end,” Pagano said. “And we know what he brought in the pass game. Those other guys are going to be asked to raise their level of play and step up.”
The timing of the injuries also is daunting for the Colts, who are heading into a difficult stretch of the schedule beginning with a trip to San Francisco to face the 49ers Sunday in Candlestick Park.
After a road game in Jacksonville, the Colts face Seattle (home), San Diego (road), Denver (home) and Houston (road) in succession.
“It’s tough. I mean you have no choice. It’s part of the game and some years are like that,” Pagano said. “I don’t know, you say you’re snakebit or whatever but we’ve got capable guys in that locker room, guys that will step up.”
Also, a few less guys than they had a week ago.