Indianapolis Colts  

 

Andrew Luck fits perfectly into Colts' new team-first culture

INDIANAPOLIS -- Hundreds of fans, many already wearing the No. 12 jerseys that hit stores in late April, were waiting for autographs about 20 feet away. High above were the video boards that had shown his every move through a 150-minute practice. Near that hung the banners from two Super Bowl trips directed by the man Luck's succeeding, Peyton Manning.

You can't be a bigger star without taking a snap than Andrew Luck is right now.

The scrutiny couldn't be more intense. The spotlight couldn't be brighter. The stakes couldn't be higher.

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And yet, easy as it can be to forget, Luck is a rookie. And if you think that's lost on him, ask him how he feels about being the most famous guy on the Indianapolis Colts roster, even though he doesn't turn 23 until September.

"We've still got Dwight Freeney and Reggie Wayne -- those are some pretty high-profile players," Luck said, carefully navigating a loaded question on carrying the team's highest profile. "I realize there's a certain notoriety that comes with playing the quarterback position, but that's all for naught if you can't produce on the field. So I approach every day like I'm fighting for a job, trying to get better and hopefully it all takes care of itself that way."

If they had a test for these things, Luck aced it with that answer, as if he was going through a checklist:

• Pay homage to teammates.

• Chalk fame up to outside forces.

• Emphasize how it doesn't matter if you don't perform.

And now you get an idea why GM Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano feel so comfortable putting their professional futures on the broad shoulders of the ex-Stanford star.

Ultimately, replacing Manning will boil down to just how good a player Luck becomes. Everyone knows that. But how he gets there will involve his ability to handle all the ancillary elements that go with being considered the best quarterback prospect in a generation, replacing the last guy to carry that tag (and one who delivered on all that promise), and serving as front man for a major organizational overhaul.

Nothing tangible has been accomplished in Indianapolis yet. But one thing Grigson does feel like he and Pagano have done is instill what the GM calls a "Team -- Small Me" culture that emphasizes the group over individual. And though it had been a fait accompli that Luck would wind up being the first overall pick, the Colts brass saw it as a pretty nice bonus that the obvious pick just so happened to embody their new ideals.

"Let's just say this: He is the genuine article," Grigson told NFL.com. "He's strong when he needs to be strong. He listens when he needs to listen. He's just a natural. Nothing's forced with him. He's not afraid to take charge of the huddle. But also, if a college free agent from who-knows-where asks him a question, I believe he'll take the time with that guy to explain it to him in a non-demeaning or condescending way, because he's Andrew Luck. He epitomizes the word 'team' to me."

That also means Luck knows his place now. On Tuesday, in his first full day with the vets, his new No. 1 receiver, Reggie Wayne, stared down the assembled media en route to practice and belted out, "Everybody's here to see my new quarterback!" Moments later, massive defensive lineman Cory Redding pointed at the press and yelled across the field to Luck, "Hey 12, they're all here, homes!"

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But when work started, the laughter quieted. Luck can already make adjustments and checks at the line, and he spent considerable time attached to Wayne's hip on both days. He's well aware he's got a ways to go. Pro-ready as he is, as much as any quarterback has been since Manning, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians speaks a different football language than Luck did at Stanford. Terminology will be key, as will learning hot reads and sight adjustments, which he and rookie receiver Griff Whalen emphasized at Stanford the past five weeks, as both finished their degrees.

"I know it's terribly cliché, but (I have to improve) everywhere," Luck told NFL.com. "I always try to get better in all aspects and then just learning the offense and getting reps. Getting reps is so important and trying to get as many game-speed reps is sort of my main focus."

Luck has time. He'll be with the other rookies at the Colts facility the next two weeks, playing catch-up after missing all but six days of the offseason program. He did get to see counterpart Robert Griffin III on TV, working with the Washington Redskins while he was unable to do the same with Colts.

"I'm happy for him that he got to be there," Luck said of Griffin. "It was frustrating in general not to be with the team. But I wasn't looking at it, 'Oh, this guy gets to be here and that guy gets to be there, why don't I get to be there?' I knew the situation I was in."

Opening Day is still almost three months away. And yet the Colts can already see the return on their investment coming. The fresh, proletariat ethos on 56th Street in Indianapolis has its standard-bearer. Because much as he might be anything but just another rookie, Luck certainly is doing his best to play the part of one.

"He fits like a glove because he is not a 'me' guy," Grigson said. "He is all about the team. You can go back to Stanford, his early days just starting and being a young guy there. You're not going to see a difference here. That's who he is. He's not trying to be someone he's not. He's out here to win and to improve every day. He has things to learn, he hasn't seen a different color jersey yet. But he understands it as well. He knows Rome wasn't built in a day."

After Wednesday's practice at the stadium, Freeney, now the third-most tenured Colt, laughed when it was posed to him that the quarterback wouldn't be getting special treatment from the vets when the time comes for rookies to stand on tables and sing songs. "Exactly," Freeney said. "It'll be me doing it to him."

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But there's another, more serious message Freeney will send his new teammate, too, after spending the past decade as part of Indianapolis' Manning Show.

"You know what? We're gonna let him know, he doesn't have to do anything extra," Freeney said. "It's going to be hard, because everybody has all these expectations for him. As long as you go out there and do your job and control the huddle, that's all that you can do. And if things happen to progress and take off from there, so be it. But it has to start somewhere. 'Don't feel like you have to take on the world.' "

It's easy to see that Luck's employing that approach already. Ready to take on the world? Maybe not. But judging by his early days in Indy, Luck's uniquely prepared for just about anything it throws at him.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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