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Colts tight ends getting a chance

Rookie, journeyman filling in while top 2 are hurt

– Mr. Irrelevant is suddenly becoming important in Indianapolis’ new offense.

So is the little-known Dominique Jones.

With an injury to Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener not yet cleared to play Sunday because of a concussion, Jones and Justice Cunningham are working overtime at tight end for a team that is trying to implement a new, power-running offense.

“Me and D.J. are probably out there a lot more than we’re used to being out there,” said Cunningham, the last pick, No. 254, in April’s draft. “They’re acting as if nothing happened, picking it up and just moving right along.”

This is not what first-year offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton envisioned when he left Stanford to return to the NFL.

He looked at the Colts’ roster and saw an opportunity to use Allen and Fleener in double-tight end sets.

Allen, a third-round pick last year, thrived in Indianapolis. He caught 45 passes for 521 yards, leading all rookie tight ends in both categories and breaking Ken Dilger’s franchise rookie record for receptions by a tight end.

Fleener, a second-round pick last year out of Stanford, had 26 receptions for 281 yards and two TDs as a rookie. His familiarity with Hamilton’s offense put him ahead of his teammates at the start of training camp. On Sunday, though, Fleener lost a fumble on the second series of the game and dropped a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone, forcing the Colts to settle for a field goal, before being diagnosed with a concussion.

The combination of Allen and Fleener was billed by some as the best young tight end tandem in the league.

But the injuries have created questions around the Colts.

Allen is expected to miss a couple of weeks with a right foot injury. Fleener was cleared for contact Wednesday and did practice in full pads, but he has not yet been cleared to play against the Giants. Even if he does, he’s likely to play sparingly.

That means Cunningham and Jones, a veteran of the Indoor and United Football Leagues, will be squarely on center stage Sunday night.

“I think Justice and I can handle the opportunity we’ve been given,” Jones said. “It’s a little more reps in practice, but it’s not hard at all. Really, it’s just getting ready to play.”

Colts coaches seem to believe in Cunningham and Jones, too.

If Indianapolis was worried about depth, it would have signed a tight end when it cleared two roster spots Tuesday. Instead, the Colts added a safety and a linebacker and are looking at other backup plans at tight end.

Offensive tackle Bradley Sowell spent some of Tuesday’s practice working there, and he may not be alone.

“Our offensive line coaches, tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts did a great job of pulling a couple of our offensive linemen and lining those guys up at the tight end position,” Hamilton said. “We’ll do whatever we need to do.

“There is no excuse for us not to be able to go out and execute plays that give us a chance to score points and win.”

Things could be worse.

During the first week of camp, Cunningham crumbled to the ground, clutching his leg. He returned to practice a couple of days later.

Now, he’s getting time with Andrew Luck and the starters as he tries to become the second straight Mr. Irrelevant honoree to earn a spot on Indianapolis’ opening day roster. Former Norwell quarterback Chandler Harnish, the final pick in 2012 at No. 253, made the team last year.

“That’s one of the things I like most, going against the one defense, just going against the starters,” Cunningham said. “Going against them makes me better.”