INDIANAPOLIS – All the “next man up” talk that spread through the Indianapolis Colts locker room Wednesday was sincere and necessary. But Dwayne Allen is not just any man.
I'm surprised Andrew Luck didn't need anti-depression medication after learning Allen will undergo season-ending hip surgery.
Allen gave the Colts not only their most-reliable pass-catching tight end, but their most reliable blocking tight end, their most reliable pass-protecting tight end and their most energy-lifting player on the entire offense. He's the third starting offensive player to be lost for the season, joining left guard Donald Thomas and running back Vick Ballard.
All of those losses are tough ones for an offense trying to establish its identity with new coordinator Pep Hamilton, but Allen is the worst of the losses.
“Dwayne brought a versatility that was unmatched in this league,” Colts backup tight end Dominique Jones said.
Allen burst into the NFL as a rookie last season and became one of Luck's favorite targets. The reasons were simple: He's large (6-foot-3, 265 pounds) and reliable. Allen caught 45 passes for 521 yards and three touchdowns last season. He'd caught only one this season – a 20-yard touchdown pass against the Oakland Raiders that demonstrated two of his attribute – soft hands and tree trunk legs. Two Raiders tried to bring him down on the play. Two Raiders failed.
Fellow second-year tight ends Coby Fleener and Dominique Jones will be asked to step up in Allen's absence – presuming the Colts don't pursue another tight end in a deal – but neither has shown the consistency of Allen.
The Colts (1-1) play the San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at 4:25 p.m. Sunday in Candlestick Park, San Francisco.
“We all know what Dwayne brought to the table as an end-line blocker, point-of-attack, kind of the hammer, stud tight end and we know what he brought in the pass game,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Again, those other guys are going to be asked to raise their level of play and step up.”
Luck knows he'll miss Allen, even as he went with the “next man up” theme that's required of NFL players year after year.
“You have to almost be a little bit, not cold-blooded, it really stinks, but you have to move on as a team,” Luck said. “Those guys understand that and the guys who move in understand that. …We know it's part of the game. People get hurt, it's a terrible part of the game, it stinks but when it (happens), it's next man up.”
Fleener will assume a bigger role in the offense in Allen's stead, Pagano said. The good news is Fleener is coming off one of his best performances since joining the Colts: four catches, 69 yards and a touchdown against the Dolphins.
The bad news is Fleener has not demonstrated the knack for blocking nor the consistency in pass catching that Allen has shown. Jones, meanwhile, is an undrafted second-year player who has fought his way between the active roster and the practice squad.
“I think we all saw why we took Coby where we took him, what he can do,” Pagano said. “Last week, he played an excellent football game. Not only in the pass game, he blocked well. He'll continue to do that. He knows his role is obviously going to expand now. We've got all the confidence in the world that he'll play at a high level for us, a winning level.”
If the Colts stick with Jones as their second tight end, he has at least spent a lot of time on the field with the first unit. Because of injuries to Allen and Fleener during training camp, Jones and rookie Justice Cunningham took a lot of repetitions with Luck and the first team.
Jones had a catch for 13 yards and another long catch negated by a penalty against the Dolphins.
“Dwayne's helped me a lot, helped me learn the nuances of the game because I didn't play as much college football,” Jones said. “Last week, I took all the reps and played on Sunday, so that helps me going into this week.”
Allen's presence will be missed in the locker room, too. He has an extroverted, high-energy personality that serves as a nice compliment to the more business-oriented Luck. That's not as big as his presence on the field as an offensive target and run-blocker, but it's a factor.
Pagano's announcement that Allen would miss the season came as a major surprise since the Colts had hinted that the injury was not a severe one when he left the game on Sunday. Further consultation with doctors determined that surgery was necessary, Pagano said. The decision was made in the best long-term interest of his career. Allen should be back, full-go, for next season, Pagano said.
For now, there's a piece missing in the Colts' offensive puzzle. And it could be quite noticeable for the rest of the season.