INDIANAPOLIS –The Colts are three games into life without Reggie Wayne, and it has been a time of adjustment for Indianapolis.
The final two quarters at Tennessee last week saw Andrew Luck complete 11-of-15 passes for 124 yards as the Colts tallied 24 points in a 30-27 comeback victory.
After having two receptions for 20 yards in the opening half, Coby Fleener prospered with six catches for 87 yards afterward.
Indianapolis overcame a slow start and did so with Luck developing a pattern of completions to a unit very important to the club's play.
"He's always challenged himself I think since day one with this organization," said Luck of Fleener. "I think he's got a great work ethic. I think he's realizing with Reg going down, with Dwayne (Allen) being out that it's a great opportunity this year to really be the guy.
"He's done a great job. His stat line continues to get better and better. His production has been great since he's been here."
Fleener had six receptions in his rookie debut, then did not match that number again in 2012.
This year he has had scoring receptions against Miami, Jacksonville and Denver – games where he snared at least four passes.
The eight catches at Tennessee (click here for film review of his 39-yard catch) marked a career-high, and he became the first Colts tight end since 2010 to top 100 reception yards.
"I hope it's a step in the right direction," said Fleener. "It doesn't matter to me if I had the stats that I did, or if I have the stats that I had game one of the season. As long as we're winning games, I think that's what matters ultimately."
When Wayne went down late in the Denver game with a season-ending knee injury, the course of the offense was altered dramatically. Wayne accounted for 106 of Luck's completions and 1,355 of his yards as a rookie.
Wayne was targeted 253 times in Luck's first 851 attempts. Prior to the Tennessee game, Luck had gone to tight ends on 15 of his 92 attempts after Wayne's departure.
That was altered a bit last week when that unit was approached on 13 of his 36 passes.
"I would say that guys are kind of understanding that they're going to need to grow a little bit faster than they may have anticipated," said Fleener. "With Reggie out there, there's a constant threat of him making a big play. Now you kind of see that T.Y. (Hilton) can step up into that role or Darrius Heyward-Bey can step up into that role.
"I think for the Colts going forward, it's just a matter of us making sure we can do that consistently."
Colts Positional Reception Totals After Reggie Wayne Injury (3 games)
*Play-by-plays credit Colts with 126 targets though team has 128 attempts
Chuck Pagano wants his offense functioning to the level it did in the last half at Tennessee. He saw it do the same at Houston two weeks earlier, but that contest had Luck finding Hilton three times for scores.
Having an attack that used eight different players having receptions at Tennessee was a big developmental step, one that was necessary to fill Wayne's void.
"(I was) very pleased because we had to (produce) and guys had to step up," said Pagano. "To see a guy like Coby (Fleener) do what he's doing and the backs making plays outside the run game in the pass game, in order for us to have a chance and be successful, those guys had to step up. I'm proud of those guys."
Defenses have been burned by Hilton's big-play ability. The ability of the offense to have more go-to options is key for long-term success.
"We'll look to different guys each week to count on to make plays, whether it's Darrius Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton, Donald Brown or Trent Richardson," said Fleener. "There's a lot of guys out there that a defense has to prepare for. (Tennessee) happened to focus a lot more on T.Y. than they did on me."
Luck had hit as many as eight receivers on seven prior occasions, and hopes the diversification will continue.
"I thought it was a very good collective effort. You see the backs (were) catching a bunch of balls out of the backfield, Weslye Saunders getting in the action, LaVon Brazill, DHB, David Reed," said Luck. "I think it will continue to be a group effort. Hopefully, we can keep it going."