Analysis  

 

Andrew Luck already looking like a pro on Day 1 with Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tuesday was Day 1 for Andrew Luck in working with his veteran Indianapolis Colts teammates, but if you didn't know that beforehand, you'd probably have missed it.

Yes, he threw one up for grabs down the middle of the field during 11-on-11 drills. He had a couple balls batted down at the line, too.

Still, it wasn't hard for anyone to see what they were looking at here: a rookie in official designation only. Luck came as advertised. When I asked his Stanford-turned-Colts teammate Coby Fleener how he, who was allowed to attend organized team activities because he had already graduated from The Farm, would describe Luck to teammates, he said simply, "The best I've ever played with. The best I've ever seen in person."

The older guys now have that perspective -- having seen Luck in person themselves. The best they've seen? For those who've shared a field with guys named Brady and Rodgers, or the guy Luck happens to be replacing, the answer would be no.

But they'd all quickly add that, mere hours into his full NFL ingratiation, he already looks the part of a pro.

"Like we've said all along, he is off the charts, as far as football IQ," coach Chuck Pagano said. "There are no mental errors. The same thing we saw at rookie minicamp with what we gave him until coming back now, he hasn't missed a beat. He is a really bright kid. He is really focused and he is really driven. Obviously, the success he has had to this point, there is a reason behind all of that. It is because football is very, very important to him."

That much was clear at Stanford. It was clear in the pre-draft process. And it's been clear in the five weeks that he's been forced to stay away from his Colts teammates, according to those who've been around him.

NFL rules forbade Luck from being at the club's facility or talking football with any of his coaches until he finished up classes last week.

It created a bind for the quarterback, sure. But it wasn't something he couldn't deal with, and Luck had two pretty valuable resources at his disposal in Fleener, who was allowed to attend OTAs and was commuting back and forth from Palo Alto while working on his master's degree, and undrafted rookie Colts receiver Griff Whalen, who was in the same boat as his quarterback.

Whalen, also an ex-Cardinal, was Luck's guy, day to day. And Fleener was their spy, keeping both up to date on what was happening in their new home.

"It was a little different without a coach there. We would go through stuff, and kinda guess -- 'It's probably something like this,' " Whalen explained. "And then we'd go with that for then, and come back here and find out we were wrong on this and this and this. But it's a million times better to have one other person talk about it with, than to just be by yourself."

Whalen and Luck would study the playbook over breakfast every day. Then, depending on class schedules, they'd try and get about 90 minutes of field work in, with normal conditioning and weight lifting. When Fleener could pick up things and bring them back to Palo Alto, all the better. The main objective was learning new terminology, which is markedly different under Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians than it was in Stanford's West Coast system.

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Luck said he thinks over the five weeks, "I've managed to learn the playbook a good bit," with Whalen adding that "we did as much on the field as we could, just getting used to the terminology -- using the new terminology rather than the Stanford stuff. We'd simulate adjustments, since there was no defense out there."

And, Whalen continued, in addition to getting the new nomenclature down, the group focused on practicing hot reads -- basic blitz adjustments for quarterbacks and receivers -- because those weren't emphasized as much at Stanford.

What's scary is that, for Luck, the work really starts now. Pagano agreed on Tuesday that the success of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton as rookies last year, without the benefit of an offseason program, is heartening for the Colts. But everyone here is convinced Luck is a different animal anyway.

After his first walk-through, safety Tom Zbikowski told me he was impressed by Luck's confidence. How could the big-hitting former Raven tell in such a low-impact environment? The quarterback was already making adjustments at the line.

"I'm in awe sometimes, when he's changing the play at the line of scrimmage, given that this is his fourth official practice, or whatever it is," Fleener said. "Then again, it's not surprising."

Not to those who know him.

"He's come in and just taken over the offense," Whalen said. "He's telling guys what to do, directing things as much as he can, without stepping on anyone's toes. He's still learning a lot. But everyone else on the team is too. And he can pick things up as quickly as anyone."

That much, even mere hours into Luck's full integration as Colts quarterback, hasn't been hard for anyone to see.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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