Colts now have protection and health issues

INDIANAPOLIS -- Health wasn't supposed to be a problem for the Indianapolis Colts. Their biggest issue was how they would protect quarterback Andrew Luck.

But both are now problems for the Colts less than three weeks into the regular season.

Starting running back Vick Ballard, the team’s best blocker at the position, went down with a season-ending knee injury on Sept. 13. That was followed by starting guard Donald Thomas having his season end with a torn quad against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. And when you think it couldn’t get any worse, coach Chuck Pagano, who seemed bothered by the latest development, announced that starting tight end Dwayne Allen would require season-ending hip surgery.

Three starters -- all responsible for helping protect the franchise -- done for the season because of injuries in less than a week.

“Like Donald, like anybody we’ve lost at this point, it makes you sick,” Pagano said. “Injuries are part of this game. We all understand that, we know that.”

Allen injured his hip when he collided with Oakland safety Tyvon Branch while attempting to catch a pass across the middle of the field in the Sept. 8 game against Oakland.

Allen originally thought the injury wasn’t severe, but concern grew when Pagano classified him as day-to-day during his Monday news conference.

“We were all hoping it would be something with time and with rest and he would come around,” Pagano said. “He’s a tough, tough, tough kid, and playing through the foot injury, the sprain. Once we got (the hip) evaluated, what the doctors saw in there and what needed to be done, for the long term, the big picture (surgery is) the right thing to do."

Allen told ESPN.com on Sept. 5 he considered himself one of the best tight ends in the league because of his ability to catch and block. That responsibility now falls on the shoulders of Coby Fleener, with Dominique Jones and Jack Doyle backing him up. Fleener is known for his catching -- when he’s not having mental lapses -- but the reason Allen moved ahead of him on the depth chart last season is because of his blocking skills.

As I pointed out in Wednesday’s “QB Watch,” Luck is on pace to be sacked 56 times this season. He was sacked four times against Oakland and three times against Miami.

“We’re very confident,” Pagano said when asked about Fleener's increased role. “We all saw why we took Coby where we took him, what he can do 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. It’s obviously going to expand now.”

Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has constantly talked about having a balanced offense, but he may have to tinker with that philosophy and let Luck pass the ball more with three-receiver sets.

That, of course, depends on whether Luck has enough time to get the ball off.

“You have to almost be a little bit, not cold-blooded, but like that really stinks and we have to move on as a team now,” Luck said. “I think those guys understand that. The guys who are going to fill in for them understand that, and it’s going to be a collective unit on offense to stay on track.”