The drafting of a quarterback-tight end combination from the same school with picks in rounds one and two had not been done in the NFL for decades, and many projected big contributions from the Stanford rookies.
Luck and Fleener did not disappoint. Fleener adapted to the rigors of the sport and overcame a shoulder injury that cost him some time in the middle of the year to have 26 receptions and two touchdowns.
“I think everybody’s first year is a learning experience,” said Fleener. “You go into it with expectations of what the NFL might be like, both the play and the preparation. You leave with a much better understanding of what is expected of you as a player and a teammate. Having that knowledge is going to be very helpful going into next year.”
Hilton and Allen were just ahead of Fleener on the reception list, and Allen likes the blend of talents he and Fleener possess.
“We’re two different guys. We play the same position, but we’re different,” said Allen. “Coby is a lean, more of a stretch-the-field, vertical guy, where I see myself as an every-down, intermediate type of tight end.
“Coby is the perfect size to play. He has the physical attributes that you look for, and he can run like the wind. I’m sure he was not satisfied with last year because of injuries. Coby handled it well, and we let him know in our meeting room that we would take care of the ship until he could get back. When he did, he got into rhythm, scored some touchdowns and made some big catches. There’s enough to eat for all of us.”
Fleener was pleased the Colts were able to rebound with an 11-5 record that included a playoff berth. He said the young players were not surprised by the success, though outside observers may have been.
As year two approaches, Fleener joins other young teammates in wanting to take a solid second career step.
“I think every part of my game needs work,” said Fleener. “I don’t think there’s one thing I’m going to say I’m good enough at. It’s always a work in progress.
“You look at guys who have been in the league for many years, like Reggie (Wayne) and they’re constantly working on their games. In my opinion, Reggie has the best hands in the NFL. When you see him continually working, you realize that at no point can you be satisfied with where your skills are at.”
Fleener will be reunited with Pep Hamilton, Stanford’s former offensive coordinator who has joined the Colts in the same capacity. Hamilton has used the tight ends very well during his career, and Fleener likes the prospects.
“I think it's a great opportunity for all the tight ends. I thought the same thing of Coach Arians’ offense,” said Fleener. “I’m excited to have Pep. It’s an offense that’s won, and I’m excited because we don’t have to learn a whole new offense in the off-season, which is difficult for any team. To have your quarterback know that offense pretty thoroughly is definitely to our advantage as a team.”
Chuck Pagano also is going into year two with the Colts. Pagano sees Fleener maturing physically and in the design of the attack.
“I think he can improve, and he’d be the first to tell you that,” said Pagano. “He’s leaner and a totally different guy than Dwayne Allen. Physically, he has a very strong upper body. As a blocker, he’ll do nothing but get better.
“Coby’s got to be a threat. He has to be like Rob Gronkowski is in New England. He has to be a threat down the seam. He’s big, athletic and has a huge catch radius. Our coaches will do a great job of getting Coby matched up on linebackers and safeties. We will utilize his talents. He can stretch the field, run corner routes and the seam (routes). In the red zone, like Dwayne, Coby has to be a huge threat.”
Fleener says he is trying to add strength and weight for his second season. He now has a basis on which to monitor his progress. A rookie year had no baseline to do so, and Fleener wants to hit different marks in 2013.
“By my statistics, it (2012) was an okay year, nothing great, not poor, somewhere in the middle, acceptable,” said Fleener. “That said, I would like to improve every aspect of my game and beat any bar that I set for myself last year.”