By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — The person least impressed by Coby Fleener's hot start to training camp appears to be the second-year Indianapolis Colts tight end himself.
Perhaps he's thinking back to his rookie season when he debuted with six catches for 82 yards against the Chicago Bears, then missed four games in the middle of the year and finished with five straight single-catch performances.
Or maybe there's an even simpler explanation. It's possible Fleener has a strong idea what he's capable of and doesn't believe he's come close to showing it yet.
Either way, others have been more than happy to do the talking for him. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton raved about his early production, and head coach Chuck Pagano called him a mismatch and a handful for defenders.
"I'm happy with that assessment, but it kind of remains to be seen," Fleener said of Pagano's praise. "It's early in camp yet. Hopefully, that'll translate to games."
Dealing with a shoulder injury during Weeks 8 through 11, Fleener finished with 26 catches for 281 yards and two touchdowns in 2012. Those numbers did not compare favorably to third-round pick and fellow rookie Dwayne Allen, who racked up 45 catches for 521 yards and three scores.
Allen also flashed all-around talent that included solid blocking in the running game, and he seemed to get stronger as the year wore on. All of which caused some fans to question how the former Clemson star lasted a full round later in the draft than his more ballyhooed teammate.
Rather than allow the comparisons to fray their relationship, Fleener and Allen have used their personal competition to help each improve his game. It seems to be working.
Allen looks more fluid and flexible in his routes this season, and he can be added to Fleener's ever-growing group of admirers.
"He's a guy who is hungry and way more physical," Allen said. "Coby understands his time was limited last year because of injury. He knows he has some doubters out there, but he also knows he can be one of the best tight ends in this league. He's going out there this year to prove that."
A return to the system that made him a college star at Stanford isn't hurting. Pagano said in the spring he believes Fleener could double his totals from last season in Hamilton's scheme.
The tight end has been a favorite target of quarterback Andrew Luck through the first four days of camp, and he's rewarded that faith by consistently getting open and catching the ball. On Wednesday, Fleener even gave Luck an assist.
When the quarterback sailed a pass a little high over the middle, the 6-foot-6 target leapt into the air and came down with the ball for another completion.
Fleener can't pinpoint the reason for his renewed confidence and early production, but he didn't dismiss his familiarity with Hamilton from their days with the Cardinal.
"I think that's probably part of it," he said. "Any time you understand the offense, you feel more comfortable in being able to go out there and run as fast as you can and do your job at full speed as opposed to second guessing."
That doesn't mean Fleener has everything quite figured out.
Like almost all of the team's receivers, he's been lining up all over the field. One moment he's tight up against the line of scrimmage in a traditional formation. The next he's spread out wider than veteran Reggie Wayne. Or in the slot. Or the offensive backfield.
All that motion means defenses have to spend extra time checking what personnel is on the field and where everyone is lined up. But it also means a little extra time in the playbook for Fleener and his teammates.
"There's definitely a lot of learning going on in this offense," he said. "Thankfully, I've been in it so I'm more familiar than most. But we're still adding new things every day and tweaking old things. So it's constant change."
Hamilton has seen Fleener play as much football as nearly anyone connected with the team. And he said he's seeing a player who has never looked better.
"In the time that I've been around Coby, he's a lot more explosive and confident right now," Hamilton said. "And he's making plays that big-time NFL players tend to make."