INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – At least initially, Dwayne Allen balked at the perception he’s “the guy.’’
Good luck with that.
“Am I the guy? We have a lot of guys,’’ Allen said Tuesday as the Indianapolis Colts went through their first of three mandatory minicamp sessions.
There was barely a hint of joviality in Allen’s delivery. Normally effervescent, he was borderline impassive when addressing his projected role as the Colts’ go-to tight end.
But make no mistake, Allen most definitely is the guy moving forward.
And he knows it. At some level, he embraces the challenge.
“I want to be the best tight end whenever Sept. 11 starts,’’ he said of the Colts’ regular-season opener against Detroit. “That is the way I’m wired.’’
Allen has been motivated since the 2012 draft when all 32 teams, including the Colts, initially passed him over. The Colts took a tight end in the second round, but it was Coby Fleener with the 34th overall pick. They added Allen in the third round with the 64th overall selection.
Status quo remained for four years, but that was rocked when the team’s personnel staff, dealing with a tightening salary-cap situation, had to decide whether to re-sign Fleener or Allen. Keeping both wasn’t a realistic option.
Fleener had been much more productive: 183 receptions, 2,154 yards and 17 touchdowns in 60 games. But he also was a one-dimensional tight end.
Allen was viewed as the complete package, but had missed 21 of a possible 64-regular-season games while battling a variety of injuries. In 43 games, he had 91 catches, 1,045 yards and 13 touchdowns.
It appears the decision was easy for the Colts. They targeted Allen, and retained him with a four-year, $29.4 million contract that includes $11.5 million in guarantees. A day after Allen re-upped with the Colts, Fleener signed a five-year, $36 million deal with the New Orleans Saints.
The reason to retain Allen?
“I just think based on his body of work and what he brings to the table,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “You look around the league and he meets all the requirements that we are going to ask of our starting tight end.
“He’s one of the better blockers in the league. We know when healthy he can be a mismatch (in the passing game). He’s a big body that can make plays.
“He’s a damn good tight end. That’s why he’s here.’’
As the 2015 season wound down, Allen seemed resigned to being elsewhere in ’16. He was a non-factor much of the season, a circumstance exacerbated by substandard play by the offensive line that required him to be used more as a blocker than a receiver. Allen was targeted just 29 times and finished with 16 receptions for 109 yards and one touchdown.
The uncertainty – Fleener or Allen? Allen or Fleener? – ate at him.
“It did bother me,’’ Allen said. “I’m sure it would bother anyone.’’
That uncertainty ended when his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, informed him the Colts offered a suitable contract.
“I was surprised how quickly things went down whenever free agency started,’’ Allen said. “(Rosenhaus) said ‘The numbers are such and such’ and I was like ‘I’m coming back home, baby!’ There was some negotiating that took place between different teams. The Colts made it very clear this is where they wanted me to be.
“And of course this is where I wanted to be.’’
Now, it’s on Allen to stay on the field and prove the Colts made the correct decision. His yearly average of $7.35 million ranks No. 10 in the NFL among tight ends.
Is there added pressure on the heels of the big contract?
“That’s for everyone,’’ Allen said. “That’s not necessarily pressure for myself.’’
As for the injuries that have impeded his progress – a hip issue forced him to miss 15 games in 2013 – Allen is doing whatever possible to lessen their reoccurrence. He’s focusing on flexibility.
“It is what it is,’’ he said. “You can’t over-prepare for injuries. They’re going to happen. It’s part of the game. It’s something you understand and embrace.
“You do small things that you hope are preventative measures. But again, when I hurt my hip in 2013, no one was around. I went up and came down. It was one of those things that happen.’’
In the end, the goal is to be available every week and, that’s right, be one of the guys his teammates can rely on.
“I’ve always just naturally taken the role of a leader on this team,’’ Allen said. “I don’t think anything really changes with the commitment the made to me.
“They definitely told me they wanted me to be a part of this team, but my role is my role. I’m going to continue to do my role, to try to lead by example and also be a vocal leader when the opportunity presents itself.’’