Colts' rookie Luck is no beginner

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 16, 2012 - 3:17 AM

The Vikings face a rookie QB on Sunday who, despite a rough debut, is mature beyond his years.

He absorbed his beating in a debut performance that ushered in a new era of anticipation, promise and hope. ¶All of that mattered little to Andrew Luck as he shared hugs and a few quiet moments alone with family members in Soldier Field last Sunday. In his NFL baptism, the Colts' presumed savior passed for 309 yards and one touchdown in a 20-point loss to the Chicago Bears. But too many bad reads and errant throws -- and three interceptions and a lost fumble -- resulted in a subpar 52.9 quarterback rating.

The Bears also sacked him three times, thumped him on a half-dozen dropbacks and chased him around the pocket with constant pressure.

Welcome to the NFL, Mr. Luck.

"Not too many fond memories, I think, of an opening loss," he said.

The Colts hope for better days for a rookie quarterback they tapped to succeed future Hall of Famer and Hoosier State legend Peyton Manning. Luck is the foundation for an organizational rebuild that commenced with a painful decision to cut ties with an aging and injured Manning after many wonderful years.

The once-in-a-generation quarterback from Stanford was blessed with too much talent, character and intangibles to pass up with the No. 1 overall pick, making it easier to release Manning.

"I know I've taken a lot of flak from some of my fellow owners to go from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck," Colts owner Jim Irsay said. "That's a hard one to figure out how that would ever have happened, because initially you just don't have that chance to really get a player with so much potential and so many strong attributes. Our goal is to make sure we nurture him so when you get two, and three, and five years down the road that you've really developed a period of greatness for a decade or more."

That process continues Sunday with Luck's home debut against a Vikings defense that gave up 260 passing yards and two touchdowns to Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert last week. The Vikings secondary remains susceptible to big plays, and the entire defense struggled on third down, allowing the Jaguars to convert nine of 18 opportunities. The Vikings could dominate the Colts' ragtag offensive line, but the speed of an NFL game is no longer a mystery to Luck.

"Now I don't have to worry about the unknowns of playing your first regular-season game again," he said.

Big footsteps

Luck seems suited to follow in Manning's legacy, and not just in terms of his talent, though that's a necessary starting point. He's also smart, endearingly humble and secure enough in his own ability to handle the pressure.

"I realized you could go crazy just trying to measure yourself to Peyton Manning every day," he said. "I don't think that would be a sane way to live. I know his legendary status, and he was my hero growing up. If one day I can be mentioned alongside Peyton as one of the quarterback greats, that would be a football dream come true."

That's the expectation. Fans of NFL bottom-feeders spent last season championing a lose-for-Luck campaign, openly rooting for lousy football if the payoff meant a shot at Luck. His career arc seems preordained, even with the unpredictable nature of the quarterback position.

Twelve quarterbacks have been taken No. 1 overall since 1998, when Manning was the Colts' selection. Those 12 have ranged from stars (Manning, his brother Eli, Michael Vick, Cam Newton); to valuable starters (Matthew Stafford, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer); to backups (David Carr); to give-'em-time (Luck, Sam Bradford); to busts (Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell).

"He doesn't need anybody to hold him by the hand," Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson said. "He is ready, as he is mature beyond his years. He's ready to embark on this challenge in the truest sense of the word."

Balanced life

Luck, son of former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, spent his formative years living in Europe as his father climbed the ladder as a sports executive, including a stint as president and CEO of NFL Europe. Andrew fell in love with European culture, architecture and soccer.

"I'm sure it shaped him," said Oliver, now athletic director at West Virginia University. "Probably made him a little bit more open-minded and tolerant and realize there are lots of different types of people out there in the world."

Luck was co-valedictorian at Stratford High School in Houston and majored in architectural design at Stanford. He speaks German and prefers to talk history, travel and politics instead of football with his dad. In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, he noted that he still uses a flip phone and has an aversion to social media -- but is not a "Luddite."

"I have a deep appreciation for technology," Luck said, "but I just choose to have a regular phone."

He's anything but regular as a quarterback. He possesses prototype size (6-4, 234 pounds), arm strength and accuracy. His pocket presence allows him to avoid pressure with slide steps. And Stanford coaches felt so comfortable with Luck's command of their offense that they allowed him to call his own plays at the line, a rarity in college football.

He completed 67 percent of his passes for 9,430 yards and 82 touchdowns with only 22 interceptions at Stanford, winning 31 games in 38 starts.

Fitting in

The Colts' choice was easy, and they are delighted with the way Luck has ingratiated himself with teammates while also accepting the fact he's the face of the entire operation.

"He wants to be treated just like the rest of the 53 guys on the final roster," Irsay said. "You love to see that."

Now, Luck must navigate a learning phase. The game is much faster, defenses more complex. Throwing lanes are tighter and he must master what he describes as a "breadth of protections" to handle blitz packages. And the Colts need drastic upgrades in talent everywhere.

On Sunday, Luck underthrew receiver Donnie Avery and was intercepted on a deep pass down the sideline after he incorrectly thought it was a free play because of a Bears offsides penalty -- that never was called.

"I realized I should never assume anything in this league," he said.

Lesson learned. More will follow, but the Colts are confident he can adapt.

"I've never been around a guy who can learn that fast," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "He just gets it."

His teammates recognize it as well.

"Nothing is too big for him," veteran receiver Reggie Wayne said. "They're putting a lot on his shoulders and he's taking it all in. He's ahead of the curve. He is who they say he is."

That might be the best compliment of all. Luck walked into a delicate situation, a No. 1 overall draft pick replacing a legend. He was on a pedestal before taking his first snap. He has handled it with aplomb.

"He's not trying to be somebody that he's not," backup quarterback Drew Stanton said. "That's a testament to him understanding at such a young age that he doesn't have to come in here and try and fill those shoes and be the No. 1 overall pick, all those things. His approach and how he was raised allows him to be who he is."

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