INDIANAPOLIS –Three of the top five Colts receivers this year are rookies, and the player nailing them in the passing routes is one as well.
Tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton are those first-year targets who quarterback Andrew Luck is finding all over the field.
This week, Colts Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians, a rookie field leader who is subbing for an ill first-year Head Coach Chuck Pagano, said pretty soon it will not be possible to call the team young anymore because of the amount of seasoning players are getting on Sundays.
Still, young is young, and the players will grow.
In particular, Arians mentioned the development of Fleener (13 receptions, 139 yards) and Allen (10 receptions, 76 yards, two touchdowns) as being big entities for the club's attack.
"They're getting better and better every week," said Arians. "Dwayne (Allen) had a couple nice catches (last week), Coby (Fleener) is starting to flash again. Both are improving their blocking at the point of attack, which is the biggest thing going against those big defensive ends. I've been real pleased with both of them."
Because of depth issues in other areas of the roster this week, the club let first-year tight end Dominique Jones go. It left the second- (Fleener) and third-round (Allen) picks as the lone players on roster at the position.
"(We) rolled the dice a little bit this week, made a roster move and thinned ourselves at that position so we could get some other guys active. I'm really pleased with those two guys," said Arians.
Fleener burst out of the gate with six receptions for 82 yards at Chicago, one of the best rookie tight end debuts in franchise history. He added five receptions for 41 yards last week against Green Bay.
Allen has receptions in the last three games, tallying on a three-yard pass against Minnesota on September 16 and last week against the Packers (eight yards). Five receptions against Jacksonville in the third game mark his highest total.
Allen is finding the pace of his Sundays slowing down a little bit mentally.
"The game is a lot slower and that's due to practice, the preseason games," said Allen. "I worked really hard during the preseason to get into some type of routine so whenever it came to the regular season, I would just be able to fall into it and play and be as comfortable as possible."
Allen feels what the team is seeking from he and Fleener is on the uptick. He likes the trend, along with the pace with which he was developed during the spring.
"Progressively, progressively," said Allen of the trend. "Our role is growing bigger and bigger, and that's how I want it to be. To come into this offense, particularly for tight ends, there are a lot of jobs. If Coach Arians had put everything on us in the beginning, I don't think we would have progressed with our style of play and production as we have, if that had happened."
Allen won the Mackey Award last year at Clemson, the honor named after the Colts' late tight end John Mackey that goes to the nation's top collegian. Allen is a straight-laced competitor who carries himself well in the estimation of General Manager Ryan Grigson.
"Dwayne Allen, really to me, is a veteran who just happens to be a rookie," said Grigson. "The way he carries himself, the way he practices, his body language, just everything speaks to a guy who has been in this league a while. He does things the right way. He plays the game the right way. He's a great example to the rest of those tight ends."
Not every performer on the offense is without experience. As Allen shapes his skills, he notes the veteran presence and ethic of Reggie Wayne, the club's second-leading career receiver.
"I don't try to do what Reggie does in any way on game day," said Allen. "In practice, any tips I can get from him I definitely look at as far as what his catching routine is before and during (the practice). He goes out and plays 'lights out.' Anything that comes his way, he catches it.
"I watch him. Ball skills are always important, and Reggie has excellent ball skills. I learn things from just watching. That's the way I learn. I don't say much. I don't write down notes, but I always watch and pay attention to the details."
Allen is fortunate to have a quarterback like Luck settled into the position. As he prepares for Sunday, Allen is sure of what he will see under center on game days.
"I know the guy I'm going to get on Sunday," said Allen. "I know how hard he's going to work throughout the week in preparation. I know the consistency he has with his game. I'm excited about that, of course. It allows me to go out and play loose, be comfortable and know I don't have to make any spectacular plays. I can play within myself in the system."
COLTS FRIDAY NOTEBOOK (QUOTE-UNQUOTE): RYAN GRIGSON (On impressions of first quarter of season) "I sound like a broken record, but I just like how resilient we are. I like how the blend of old and young we have on our team – those cornerstones of our team, those leaders, 'pillars' as we call them – have really helped lay this foundation to where the younger players can look to them in times of adversity and see how they do things. That was really evident in this last game. We were under some serious adversity, not only in the game but off the field. It was such a great testament to the leaders of this team and the team as a whole. Everyone bought in. Like Bruce Arians mentioned throughout the week, 'The foundation we laid here, that Chuck Pagano has instilled in this team, has shown up.' It's beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was built on a rock. We're going to keep on every day just trying to get better, control the things we can control, learn to play four quarters of football, not just a half, not just come alive in the fourth quarter. We played a pretty darned good second half of football this past weekend. We have to continue to do that." (On if surprised with Luck's play in crunch time) "That's why you take a guy number one in the draft overall. We expect him to be great. He's shown that. He's shown flashes of greatness. As I have said before and Chuck has reiterated, 'The greatest thing about Andrew is he's his harshest critic.' It's not like you have to needle him to get better. Every time he steps on the practice field or into the weight room, that's all he's trying to do. He's a type of kid we expect big things from. He has a great tutor and mentor in Bruce (Arians), who is bringing him along. It's not shocking how we're doing on offense. We have explosive receivers. We have some guys who can separate and create mis-matches at tight end. We have a guy who can put the ball on the money, is mobile and can make plays under duress and when things break down. That is a key, key trait for a quarterback in this league." (On Luck's hustle play against Green Bay to bat a fumble out of bounds) "Nothing surprises me with Andrew. I've also seen him throw an interception and bee-line it, then ear-hole the guy making the interception and darn near put him in the stands with the hit. Andrew is a big guy who can run, who is a heck of a lot tougher than people even know. I think it's becoming more evident with each week he plays in the league. He's a one tough sucker who is not only very talented, but his will to win is what separates him from others. There are lot of quarterbacks in this league who would not have made that play, and they sure as heck would not go and put their face on somebody after an interception like he does, or come back from a hit in the mouth like he did. To me even if you don't know the game of football, you can grab someone off the street and put that play on and they would say, 'Wow, that guy got up? And he's still playing? And he just made that play now? He must be tough. He must care.' That's why he's here. That's why we're trying to do everything we can to help make him successful. He's a great talent." BRUCE ARIANS (On getting team back to earth) "That occurred Monday. The jubilation that we won the game, how we won the game and why we won the game, the players had 48 hours, the coaches had 24. That is history now. We're proud of the accomplishment, but we can't look back. We can't have a rearview mirror on this car. We have to look straight ahead. It started today. Already, we had really good meetings this morning and a good walkthrough, so we're well on our way to the next game. It's time to go to the next game." (On if it is detrimental for Mark Sanchez to have high profile while Jets have two-QB offense) "I don't know if I would want to question or comment on their situation. Myself, I've never been a two-quarterback guy. If you have two, you don't have any. I've been a one-quarterback guy for my whole career, that's just my philosophy. It can work. They can make it work if they chose to do so, and they obviously have. It's just not my philosophy, no."(On RB plans for the game without Donald Brown)"Next man up (laughs). Vick (Ballard) will start. We'll get Mewelde (Moore) back. Delone (Carter), who has been waiting for his chance, is going to get a good chance and a great opportunity for him to go out and show what he's capable of doing." (On if anxious to see team play on the road)"Oh, there's no doubt. That was a big focus in our meeting, how we're going to handle the road business trip – from the travel part of it, to the game part of it, to the crowd noise part of it. We didn't handle it extremely well in the second half against Chicago, although we had very few pre-snap penalties and did a pretty good job with our silent count and our snap count offensively. Then defensively, they'll probably be glad to be able to talk to each other with the crowd noise on the other side of the ball. It swings to offense this week, and we're the ones that have to handle it. We'll focus on it all week." (On if concerned about youthful team on the road)"No. Pretty soon we're not going to be young anymore. T.Y. (Hilton) got 73 snaps in that ballgame. I don't consider Andrew (Luck) young anymore. When you play these guys long enough, going into this week the youth part of it can't be used as an excuse anymore. They've been down that road. We'll give them one more test on the road in a big, big ballgame for both teams." (On if he would like to get Luck's attempts down)"I'd like to, if we could. We need to run the ball a little bit more and a little bit better. I feel real safe when he goes back there and throws that ball that it's going to go to the right guys. I don't have a concern with the number of passes. Now if there's hits involved, then I get concerned." (On if he feels comfortable to open up the offense a little more, given Luck's prior success)"We open it up any more, there won't be any envelopes left. There's nothing else that we haven't done in training camp. We put everything in in training camp. Each week we'll bring a little bit out and use it. I'd like to be able to run the football more often, better. I thought we had a nice balance in the first half of that game. It was legit running the football. We have to maintain that on the road. It's tougher with the road with the continuity of with a snap count or without a snap count. That part I'd like to see and the physical part of it I'd like to see." (On if this is a more efficient team if it used no-huddle out two minutes)"We're getting better. In two-minute, we've been pretty successful. But with the no-huddle adding the running game to it, I was really pleased. Now taking that on the road with a very young team is going to be a very big challenge because communication levels are not as easy and there's room for error. It only takes one guy not to get the right code word or snap count and ruin a very good situation for you. We'll be very careful how we use it, when we use it, or how much we use it." (On if he threw the playbook at Peyton Manning the way he has done with Andre Luck) "Yes we did, but we didn't attempt no-huddle the first year. We did a lot of check with me's, and gave him two or three options, but not at the line, rolling in a no-huddle situation until the second year. It's something he's (Luck) been wanting to do. I felt the rest of the guys were more than capable now, having practiced it for four or five weeks. It was time to try it. Rather than try to slow the game down, we wanted to get more snaps. You know, knock on wood, it worked. We had the ball for 35 minutes and 100 plays. I never dreamed that we would have that many snaps in the game, I think it was actually 90-something without the penalties. We want to be able to play up-tempo and spread the field. I thought it really helped our running attack through the third quarter. We left a few yards out there on run and pass, but it was something that looking back was a decent decision." (On if he has a measuring stick to evaluate Andrew Luck)"Yes, decision making. The biggest play Andrew made in the game, he got hit, the ball came out, he went flying across the field, dove, and knocked it out of bounds or they would have had it right there on the 35 or 40. That was the biggest play of the game for him, I thought. It shows his grit and his determination. He was not letting them get that ball. He got plastered. He should have been on the ground, but he knew it (the ball) was out and he went and got it. I thought that was the best play, the turning point, because we wouldn't have recovered from that." GREG MANUSKY (On if the Wildcat is hard to prepare for)"I think you've got to prepare for it. Every team that goes in there has got to prepare for it because it's a part of the game now and that's what we've got to do." (On if it is easier for backups to prepare when they know early in week if they will start)"It depends on who the individual is. Every week that I was playing I always tried to prepare like I was a starter. That's what we try to tell those young players when they're in the meeting room. You never know when it's your time to go out there and shine. Cassius (Vaughn) is the same way. He went out there and he had a good performance on Sunday. So all those individuals who are sitting in that meeting room, they have to prepare themselves like they're actually going to play the game." DWIGHT FREENEY (On loss of Robert Mathis)"It definitely changes (the defense). He's an All-Pro, and it's hard to replace a guy like that. We're going to have to figure something out and hope he returns healthy as soon as possible."(On his ankle)"It's pretty good. I think in football, you're never 100 percent. It feels better than last week. It's a four-to-six (week injury). I was able to play last week. It's still getting better. It's something that tends to linger throughout the year. It never really just goes away completely. Hopefully, it's gone by the weekend (smile). You just have to watch it. That thing can creep back on you."(On focusing after great Green Bay win)"We are used to doing that, well at least I'm used to doing that around here. For all the years I've been here, we've had high moments and we've had low moments. That was great that week or that was disappointing that week, or whatever week that was. That can't help us for this week. We are facing a new opponent, and you have about 24 hours to celebrate, get it out of your system and re-focus. This is the National Football League. You have a bad play on the field, forget about it and go onto the next one."(On where he rates Reggie Wayne's GB performance)"It's up there, if not one of the best I've seen. Reggie has been here forever. Unfortunately (he's been) overshadowed at times. He's a baller. He steps up all the great times you need him. Obviously he did it again. He's always been there for us. To have a guy on the team who can take over a game (is huge). I've been playing with Reggie for years, so it's not a surprise for me. Throw him the ball, that's definitely going to happen. Whether it's third-and-13, whatever, he has a chance to make a big play."JERRAUD POWERS (On if he feels defense is depleted)"We are fine. I didn't notice anything (at practice). We got a couple guys banged up but if you look at any NFL team, you can say the same thing. Everybody has guys banged up. I think we'll be fine. I think we've got guys that have been here long enough that know what to do. Once they get their opportunity Sunday, we'll see what happens." VICK BALLARD (On if ready for opportunity)"Yeah. I don't think any test is too big for me. All I can do is go out there, do what I've been coached to do, not try to be Superman, not try to play outside myself, just do my job." (On if it is good that he will have more carries to get in rhythm)"Definitely. That's one big thing for me, getting in a rhythm. I think I'm a rhythm runner. I think I'll be a little more productive than in the past." (On if he has been hungry for chance)"As a rookie, on the sideline, you always want to get into the game, especially coming from college where you were maybe the 'go-to' guy. You get to the NFL, you might be on the sideline. I think I've approached it pretty well. I haven't been too anxious to get on the field because I know I still have a lot to learn. I don't want to get out there too fast and make too many mistakes." ANDREW LUCK (On why the team functions well in two-minute offense)"I don't know. I think guys maybe buckling down, focusing. Coaches do a great job of teaching us situational football, especially offensively with Coach Arians. He talks to us about not being robots, about understanding the situation, understanding what's going on. I think guys buy into that. Coaches put us in a good situation."(On if the playbook has been thrown at him) "Yes, they've put a lot of plays on everybody's plate. I don't think Coach Arians would do it if he didn't think we could handle it. He wouldn't bombard us if he thought it would have a negative impact on us playing the football games. It's great to have a playbook that you can pick plays from in certain situations. Especially in a game with 100 snaps, you are going to have to dig deep on that call sheet. I think everybody handles it very well, and (I'm) glad there is a chance to choose from a bunch of plays." (On the Jets' defense)"I think they do a great job of creating turnovers. As a quarterback, trying to wrap your head around their scheme is difficult with all that Coach (Rex) Ryan does. It'll be a tough week in the film room and on the practice field." (On if there is a stat he pays attention to) "I think wins are important, probably the number one thing. I think there are stats that do tell you a little bit of a story. I've always believed third-down percentage, completion percentage, touchdown-interception ratio. I think they all are combined and entered to form a passer rating or whatever they may have. Wins, I think are the most important." (On if would like to see more balanced offense) "Yeah. Whatever Coach Arians calls, that's what we are going to run. I realize some plays are called out of necessity, situational football. I wish we could rush for 250 yards every game and throw for 300. You realize that is not the case. Whatever it takes to get the win, that's what I think every guy in this locker room would do." (On who is a better runner, him or Tim Tebow) "Tim Tebow by far. (Reporter: I'm not sure the stats would suggest that?) The stats lie then." (On if the playbook seems overwhelming) "It's not overwhelming, and it hasn't been really for a while. If it was overwhelming and the season had started, that would have been a bad situation. I think Coach Arians knew that and all of us knew that. He's never put too much on anybody's plate on the offense. He's given us what he thinks we can handle. He's a great judge of that quality in players. At times you struggle because you're learning a new playbook. You try and learn more every day. I think it's working to our advantage that we do have some plays that you can dig down and call them in certain situations." (On if putting an emotional win behind you is more difficult putting the Jacksonville loss behind)"I think even more. We can't look in the rearview mirror. We can't keep patting ourselves on the back for one win. We realize it was just one win in the grand scheme of things. Obviously, it meant a lot to a lot of people, especially Coach Pagano. It's behind us. We've got to move on. I think we have. It's to a tough Jets team and another week." JEFF LINKENBACH (On being more savvy now)"I think I have learned over the years. Any time a rookie comes in you're wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. You start getting into it and start picking up things that veterans do, like from (Jeff) Saturday and (Ryan) Diem in my case. You watch film and start picking up things from that to get a feel for the game, and you incorporate it into your play. Whenever you have vets in the room where you study, they're going to provide a lot of insight. They teach you the tricks of the trade, information that helps, and you learn from their leadership." A.Q. SHIPLEY (On knowing how well Grigson thinks of him)"I owe him a lot. I was out (of the game) last year, and he gave me another shot this year. To have that type of respect for me, to be on the practice squad last week and have enough confidence in me to go out, start and get the job done (was big). I knew I had to be ready." (On Samson Satele)"Since he came in, he and I have had a pretty good rapport. We feed off each other a little bit. He was great (last Sunday). Every time I was looking to the sideline, he was showing the different personnel groupings they were in. When I was coming off, he would pull me aside if he saw something. He's been great. We work together well, for sure."