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John DeShazier: Performance vs. Vikings another sign of Coby Fleener's development in Saints offense

Tight end had team's only TD catch

It could have been a significant play for the New Orleans Saints offense, a preview of things to come and if so, it was one of the glimpses of the kind of play tight end Coby Fleener can make for New Orleans' offense.

The second-quarter seam route he ran, and the ensuing 24-yard catch he made under heavy contestation, against Minnesota on Monday night in the season opener, was one of the reasons the Saints believed last season that Fleener would be such a good fit for them.

It required a perfect throw/fit from quarterback Drew Brees, but also a precise route and sure hands from Fleener, who made himself more open than he actually was.

"That's a key part of what I'm brought here to do – run down the middle of the field and make those catches," Fleener said. "That was 100 percent Drew. It was an amazing throw. Great ball placement."

It was significant in that it helped Fleener tie for the team lead in receptions (five) and receiving yards (54), and his 8-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was the Saints' lone touchdown in the 29-19 loss. And, entering Sunday's home opener against New England in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it was significant in that it appeared to evidence Fleener's continued development in the offense.

"I was encouraged because he made some big plays for us," Coach Sean Payton said Thursday. "It seemed that they came down the stretch. But considering the time he missed in training camp, I think finally he's getting his legs under him and in a little bit better football shape. It was solid.

"I think there's still a lot more that he can do and that we can do. I just finished talking about this game with the team and we've got to be better on third down offensively, we talked about the red area, but when you don't have those conversion numbers (four of 11 on third down), you don't get to so many of your plays and what you want to be able to run. But overall, he made some plays for us when we needed them."

Fleener said his chemistry with Brees is evolving positively.

"Any time you work with someone longer and longer, the better you get," he said. "But that said, Drew has made my job easy from Day 1. It's just been my challenge to learn the playbook and get it down as best I can. I think every week's a process but hopefully, we can continue (this) trend."

It's no secret that the Saints will need it. With receiver Drew Brees set to serve the second game of his three-game suspension, Fleener is among the targets poised to help compensate for the absence of Snead.

"Ultimately, it gets spread out," Payton said. "But when we sit on third down and we go through our list, we say, 'Who's the primary, who's getting the football, how are we getting (receiver) Mike (Thomas) the ball, how are we getting these various people the ball, and is there enough up there that does that?'

"(Fleener is) someone that we look at closely as to how (the Patriots will) match up to him. I'm sure that they'll have a good plan in regards to their man coverage. They saw a good tight end (Travis Kelce) last week from Kansas City who was all over the field in regards to what the Chiefs are doing."

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