Last week, I spent four days hanging around former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (yes, that still sounds weird). As a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy, I had the opportunity to observe the Denver Broncos' new signal-caller work out on two separate occasions. I was also in attendance in a small meeting room at Nicholls State University as both Peyton and Eli Manning addressed 40 of the top college quarterbacks in the country (who were also serving as Manning Passing Academy counselors). They spent an hour answering every question the college quarterbacks threw at them.
After listening to Peyton speak during that session, two distinct thoughts came to mind about the future Hall of Famer:
1) He's the most intelligent football player I've ever been around.
2) His passion for preparation and attention to detail are unlike anything I've ever seen.
Fortunately for the Colts and their fans, Peyton's successor in Indy, Andrew Luck, graded out higher in those two areas than any college quarterback I've scouted over the last eight years. Even better: Luck and the Colts just consummated a four-year, $22.1 million contract, with the rookie quarterback putting pen to paper on Thursday.
I visited with the Stanford coaching staff on four occasions over the past year to gather background information about Luck and the rest of the Cardinal draft prospects. I've never heard everyone in a program universally rave about a player like the folks at Stanford did about Luck.
Entering my first Stanford visit, I knew Luck would be given high marks for his intelligence. The fact that such a prestigious academic institution accepted him was impressive by itself. However, upon arrival in Palo Alto, Calif., I learned that he is even smarter than I'd predicted. I heard stories about Luck's learning capacity that I've never heard about any other quarterback. For instance, during fall camp, Stanford head coach David Shaw had Luck run the second day of "install" meetings for the entire offense. Picture a room full of 18- to 22-year-old kids staring at their junior quarterback as he goes over the assignments for every single one of their positions.
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I was able to speak with Shaw, who I worked with during my time in the Baltimore Ravens' personnel department, during each of my trips to Stanford. During an August visit, I stood in his office and listened as he described one of Stanford's typical offensive play calls. Check that: It was actually three play calls. Shaw said they would usually gave Andrew three different plays in the huddle, then he would go to the line of scrimmage and determine which was best suited to run against the defensive look that was being shown. The amount of verbiage was astounding, and Shaw said Luck made the correct play call 99 percent of the time.
And how's this for attention to detail? At one point during the fall, Stanford's offense was having issues with false starts. Instead of waiting for a coach to solve the problem, Luck set up a punishment system that involved A LOT of running for the entire offense after each ensuing transgression. Problem solved.
While Luck presents something like an "aw, shucks" persona to the media, he is very passionate when he addresses teammates in the heat of battle. Several of his Stanford cohorts told me that he gave a very intense and inspiring speech during halftime of the 2010 USC contest (a game which Stanford won, 37-35; Luck completed 20 of his 24 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns while also racking up 40 yards on the ground).
Luck is extremely competitive in everything he does. In fact, Stanford's strength coaches were constantly trying to keep him from over-working in the weight room.
Now, the fact that Luck is very bright and possesses an enviable work ethic doesn't guarantee he will thrive in the NFL. However, those qualities, combined with his impressive physical skill set, make it difficult to envision Luck being anything but successful.