Fleener got an unwelcome challenge as a rookie when a shoulder injury cost him four weeks of the season.
He wound up watching helplessly from the sideline as his teammates continued a climb that made the Colts the biggest surprise story in the NFL.
And it wasn’t easy.
“It’s brutal,” he said. “Trying to cheer on your team from the sideline, I was a well-paid cheerleader at that point. It’s rough.”
Third-round pick Dwayne Allen, a fellow tight end out of Clemson, made the most of Fleener’s absence. He developed his own chemistry with Luck, including catching the quarterback’s first regular-season touchdown pass at Lucas Oil Stadium, and wound up with 45 catches for 521 yards and three scores.
Limited in part by his injury, Fleener managed just 26 receptions for 281 yards and two scores.
Hamilton is expected to utilize the tight ends more extensively in the passing game than his predecessor Bruce Arians did a year ago. That, along with the natural improvement many players make between their first and second NFL seasons, are helping to send expectations soaring for Fleener.
In the two padless practices open to the media so far, he’s delivering. Fleener’s highlights Wednesday included a leaping reception in front of a defender in addition to the two Hail-Mary scores.
“You saw today, he made some outstanding catches,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said. “So he’s making progress every day. What did he have 20-, 30-some catches last year? That should double.
“There’s only one football. We’ve got some playmakers on this team so he’s doing a great job. He’s right where we think he should be.”
Fleener said more and more of the old Stanford offense comes back to him every day. And he can feel the progress he’s making on the field.