The Herald Bulletin

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Sports

June 14, 2012

Fleener shows flashes in finale

INDIANAPOLIS — A rookie from Stanford stole the show Thursday during the final day of the Indianapolis Colts’ mandatory minicamp.

But it might not have been the one many fans expected.

Sure, Andrew Luck was his usual brilliant and efficient self. But it was tight end Coby Fleener’s time to shine.

“It is fun to have a guy that you are familiar with throwing to,” Luck said after throwing three of his 10 touchdowns to his former Cardinal teammate. “Hopefully, we get on that level with everybody. There is always more to work on between him and I, as well, but it was nice to see him go out there and make some nice catches.”

Most of Thursday’s full-team work was done in the red zone, giving the receivers a chance to spend some time in the end zone. Fleener took full advantage of the opportunity, showcasing the size and athleticism that made him a second-round pick in April’s NFL draft.

Fleener used his 6-foot-5 height on the first touchdown pass, reaching to snag a high pass in the back of the end zone and planting both feet inbounds.

On the second score, Fleener turned at the last possible second and cradled a back-shoulder throw in the front corner of the end zone.

The grand finale was a pass along the sideline in the end zone that sailed a few centimeters past the outstretched hand of linebacker Justin Hickman before landing softly in the hands of a diving Fleener.

“I’m very comfortable with Andrew, both on and off the field,” Fleener said. “I think it’s more than just us having chemistry. I think it’s him being a darn good quarterback. I can’t say enough to be on this team and be thankful to have him as a quarterback.”

Fleener and fellow rookie Dwayne Allen will be looked upon to provide something of a security blanket for their highly touted rookie quarterback.

New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians loves to run a two-tight-end offense. He did it in Pittsburgh as a quarterbacks coach for a young Ben Roethlisberger, and he did it during his first tour in Indianapolis as Peyton Manning’s first NFL quarterbacks coach.

In 1998 with the Colts, Arians leaned on tight ends Ken Dilger and Marcus Pollard to force defenses’ hands and make reads easier for a still learning Manning. He plans similar roles for Fleener and Allen, and while the rookies have looked good so far, Arians said tougher days are sure to come.

“When (Fleener) learns what he’s doing, he’s really fast,” Arians said of Fleener’s red-zone stardom Thursday. “On the indecision, he’s really slow. We’ve got to get him playing fast all the time because he’s really dangerous when he’s playing fast. Both of them will get a rude awakening when the pads come on, but again that’s part of growing. We’ll get the pads on, blocking outside linebackers and defensive ends in this league are a little different. That’ll be cutting the mustard with those guys.”

Fleener is well aware of the difficulty of the task ahead.

Unlike Luck, he was allowed to attend organized team activities during the past few weeks because he was studying as a grad student at Stanford. But he did miss last week’s workouts to take his final exams, and he said the whole offseason has been a long series of learning opportunities.

“It’s a whirlwind,” Fleener said. “Not only are we trying to learn a whole new language as far as the playbook, but to go against some of the guys that are All-Pros and just veteran studs is an amazing thing.”

Luck, at least, appears to be on an advanced track.

He completed 23 of 39 passes Thursday, taking 90 percent of the snaps. He said he needs the extra work to catch up after missing so much practice time while finishing his degree at Stanford.

But he shook off a 2-for-7 practice start and threw five straight touchdown passes during one particularly impressive stretch.

His best throw of the day split a pair of defenders — including starting cornerback Jerraud Powers — and found wide receiver Donnie Avery in the back corner of the end zone.

“It’s not always that easy, but it’s something that some of those were repetitive plays where he was here before and studied, and some of the new stuff he struggled with,” Arians said of Luck’s hot streak. “A lot of new empty formations here today and a lot of blitzes from the defense. Each day is a growing session for both sides of the ball, for the defense seeing him, and for us seeing the defense.”

At least one defensive player likes what he’s seen from the offensive rookies so far.

“They’ve been working real hard,” linebacker Pat Angerer said. “The tight ends are really good, and obviously we’ve got a pretty good quarterback.”

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