INDIANAPOLIS –This past April, the Colts became the first NFL team in more than 40 years to draft a quarterback and tight end from the same school with picks in the first and second round.
While Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener joined Indianapolis from Stanford, the Colts did not stop there. Indianapolis took Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen in the third round, adding a trio of players in the top 64 picks who would help shape an offense quickly and likely for years to come.
All three have started every game this season, and all have been asked to perform at a level beyond their tender years.
Long a proponent of a multiple tight end attack, Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians welcomed the additions of Fleener and Allen, and he thought they had very solid outings last week at New York.
"I thought they made great strides last week. They had their best week of practice, and it showed up in the game," said Arians. "They both played fast. They both played without a mental error for the first time this year. I knew they would be a good matchup against the safeties and backers."
Fleener and Allen have been good matches for the Colts as well. Indianapolis for years utilized a multiple tight end attack featuring Ken Dilger, Marcus Pollard and Dallas Clark. Among others at the positional unit through the years, they were a trio of performers who blocked and created problems for opponents in the passing game.
Arians was around Indianapolis for some of those years, and he followed the same approach successfully later in Pittsburgh.
Of the club's 355 scrimmage plays this year, Fleener has been on the field 235 times to Allen's 234. Though not paired in the attack all the time, Arians believes their presence together is an advantage for the offense.
"I've always believed that if you have a fullback in the game, you're more one-dimensional, especially if he's not a special teams ace," said Arians. "You can get more tight ends involved. You can do more things, especially if they have the ability to get in the backfield, play on the line of scrimmage and play out wide, which we have with these guys."
Both were productive targets during their collegiate careers. Fleener starred with Luck on many Cardinal Saturdays, while Allen won the Mackey Award in 2011, an honor given to the nation's top tight end. Now, their talents make life for opposing teams a bit more difficult.
"Their skill set makes you more unpredictable. You get a defense, they don't know (what you're going to do)," said Arians. "They're not going to call their defense by your personnel group. They're going to call their defense by down and distance, rather than, 'Oh they've got this fullback in the game, we're going to give them our best run call. They've got their two tight ends, we're going to give them this best call. They've got three wides, we're going to give them this best call.' When you have those guys that you can just keep using in different formations, you're just getting down and distance calls. They don't really know what you're going to be in whether it be the I (formation), trips or two tight end sets. The beauty of it is disguise."
Fleener has 17 receptions for 181 yards, grabbing six passes for 82 yards in his debut against Chicago in one of the best career-opening performances ever by a Colts tight end. Allen has 12 receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns, and the pair rank third and fourth among club receivers.
"They've been great," said Luck. "It's nice to sort of grow up with them as rookies and learn about each other, learn about how they play the game. I think what Dwayne does and his quickness and his power and his ability to play multiple positions is great. Fleener's speed and the matchup problems he poses are great for this offense.
"They can do so many different things that they are invaluable to us, and they present a lot of matchup problems."
Fleener, Allen and Luck were joined last Sunday by running back Vick Ballard, meaning more than one-third of the starting lineup was comprised of rookies.
The team's approach from the outset this year was that youth would be counted upon heavily and that inexperience would not be an excuse. Players were coached that way throughout training camp, and it is reaping dividends.
For Allen, confidence is not an issue because of that approach and his ethic.
"That's just the way I've always been," said Allen. "I'm a very confident guy because I feel like if I approach a game with confidence, my play will speak for itself. That it has so far. I'll continue to grow and get better.
"I have had rookie mistakes, but I don't have time to be a rookie and to have too many of those rookie mistakes because there's no one else. I just try to approach a game with as much confidence as possible so I can go out and play like a veteran."
Many players dream of making the NFL. For Allen, that dream is not enough. Arriving in the league is fine, but achieving in it is his goal.
"It's very exciting (being in the league). I want to compete, and I want to be the best at my position. The way you become the best is you go against the best," said Allen. "My dream is past just making it to this level. My dream ends with me hoisting the Lombardi Trophy with my teammates all around me. I'm working every day."