Dilger sneaks up on NFL In second season, tight end helps Colts to fast start

THE BALTIMORE SUN

INDIANAPOLIS -- One of the few tight ends Ken Dilger plays second fiddle to these days in the AFC is New England Patriots All-Pro Ben Coates.

That was expected to be bad news last night for the Ravens, who failed to contain Coates in last week's 46-38 loss to the Patriots, but Dilger was held to one catch for 3 yards in the Indianapolis Colts' 26-21 victory.

Dilger sneaked up on the league last year, when the second-round draft pick out of Illinois started the final 13 games and played a pivotal role in the Colts' drive to the AFC title game.

He introduced himself to the NFL by catching 42 passes for 635 yards and four touchdowns, while using his 6-foot-5, 259-pound frame to abuse his share of linebackers and defensive backs.

"I didn't know what to expect out of the whole season. I started out as the second tight end, and all of a sudden I was thrown into the fire," Dilger said. "I'm a lot more relaxed and comfortable this year."

It shows.

No receiver was more effective during the Colts' 4-1 start. Through five games, Dilger averaged a team-high 15.6 yards per catch on 18 receptions, and he has the team's longest reception at 51 yards. He leads the Colts with three touchdowns.

He also has made some history. In the Colts' 21-7 victory over the Jets on Sept. 8, Dilger caught seven passes for 156 yards, breaking the single-game yardage mark by Colts Hall of Famer John Mackey.

Dilger blushes at the comparison.

"I know John Mackey was one of the best tight ends ever, and he's in the Hall of Fame," Dilger said. "I looked through the media guide to see what he did. He had a great career. Hopefully, I can be half as good as he was."

Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh said Dilger has the stuff of which long, great careers are made.

"It's his speed and the way he catches the ball so fluidly, the way he gets yards after the catch, the way he has a sense for finding holes in zones to make big plays," Harbaugh said.

"It's his attitude, too. You know Ken Dilger is going to improve because he has that good attitude and success hasn't gone to his head. I just envision him getting better and better because he has his feet on the ground and he's a good, solid person."

Coates had seven receptions for 83 yards and one touchdown against the Ravens. He outran their linebackers, and the only time the team could control him was in their nickel or dime coverage, when they put cornerback Donny Brady on him. The Ravens never attempted to hit Coates at the line of scrimmage.

Dilger can cause similar problems.

"Coates is the better player, because he has more speed and is a better athlete," said Ravens reserve safety Bennie Thompson. "He is more of a deep threat."

"I've been impressed with the difference he has made in their offense with his run blocking and pass catching," said Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. "He runs real well after a catch.

"He might be more of a physical blocker than Coates, but Coates uses his body better to shield off defenders as a receiver," said Lewis. "Also, I think the Colts use Dilger more deep inside the opposition's territory. Either way, both are excellent players. Sometimes when you hold guys like that to six or seven catches for 70 yards, you've done your job."

Pub Date: 10/14/96

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