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Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts aiming to top heights of 2012

ANDERSON, Ind. -- Time after time, the ball left Andrew Luck's hand like it had GPS, landing perfectly in his receivers' mitts during 11-on-11 drills Monday.

Nine consecutive completions under Crayola blue skies on the second day of Indianapolis Colts training camp. A touchdown on a checkdown to Reggie Wayne who was, at best, Luck's third option.

"Right when you see a throw you think you might never see again, five or 10 plays later, you see another 'wow' play," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said in a quiet moment after practice. "He's just loaded with them."

These are the opening days of Andrew Luck's sophomore campaign, and the Colts, to a man, can't wait to see what he can do for an encore to his debut season.

As Wayne, the 12-year veteran, said, "I'm 'Team Luck,' you know? I'm all behind him. He's going to be really good, he really is."

Wayne learned everything he needed to know about Luck in 2012 during a remarkable roller-coaster ride that ended in a 24-9 playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens. After that game, Wayne and then-Ravens safety Ed Reed -- close friends and former University of Miami teammates -- embraced. Wayne offered congratulations. Reed wanted to talk about Luck.

"He said Andrew did a good job of looking him off," Wayne said. "He said normally, when you play a young quarterback, they kind of lock in on guys, and it's easy to read. But he said Andrew was already ahead of the curve, just by the way he was able to look him off and look (other) guys off defensively."

Wayne remembers the conversation like it was yesterday. "Ed told me that we're on our way."

Indy's 'meal ticket'

The Colts were 11-5 last season, making a nine-game turnaround from 2011 as they drew considerable inspiration from Pagano's diagnosis of leukemia and his successful "ChuckStrong" battle against the disease. They had eight new starters on offense. Luck threw for 300 yards six times -- two more than the previous NFL record-holder for a rookie, Peyton Manning. He led seven fourth-quarter comebacks.

"He willed this entire team to all those victories," Pagano said, "and to something nobody thought we could do."

Pagano, who preaches a team-first attitude in everything, quickly added, "along with everybody else" to that sentence -- though he didn't have to. Luck's teammates get it.

There's a reason Luck was given the nickname of "Meal Ticket" last season. Second-year tight end Dwayne Allen explained: "Because he's everyone's meal ticket. If he doesn't perform, nobody eats."

Luck's reaction? "He just blows it off," Allen said with a laugh.

His nickname this season? "Still 'Meal Ticket,' " Allen said.

Ultimately, the Colts will go as far as No. 12 takes them -- this year, maybe every year.

Luck was the first overall pick in the quarterback-rich 2012 NFL Draft. Coming out of Stanford, he was as NFL-ready as any rookie signal-caller since Peyton Manning.

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Still, he can improve on what he did as a rookie. He can take fewer sacks, throw fewer than 18 interceptions. He knows his completion percentage of 54.1 needs to rise.

And while he might have played like a veteran for much of 2012, know this: Andrew Luck didn't feel like one, especially in training camp.

"I felt like a rookie a lot," Luck said. "Not knowing where the meeting rooms were, not knowing everybody's face and name, not having NFL experience. (Now) hopefully I've shown my teammates (that they) can trust in me in situations, and you don't have that as a rookie. I don't want to say it's easier now, but it's comfortable, in a sense."

There's another difference.

"Little things, like having to sing in front of the group, make you feel like a rookie," Luck said, smiling. Last year, he chose "Country Roads" by John Denver. Now? "No more of that."

'Always trying to learn'

When the Colts signed veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in March, Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson told him to be a pro: "Just be you." The idea was that Hasselbeck and his vast experience -- he was drafted in April 1998, when Luck was 8 years old -- would be good for their franchise quarterback's development.

He's already been good for Luck's dinner plans. Luck was so curious when he learned that Hasselbeck was going to have dinner with former Colts quarterback Jeff George one night -- asking what George thought of certain defenses or about his approach to training camp -- that Hasselbeck invited Luck and No. 3 quarterback Chandler Harnish along.

"Andrew's a fascinating guy," Hasselbeck said. "He's always trying to learn, always trying to get better. It could be pingpong, it could be learning a different language, studying history or architecture or football."

In the quarterbacks room here at Anderson University hangs a poster of philosophers. "Ivan Pavlov and Sigmund Freud and all of these other guys you haven't heard of," Hasselbeck said. "We're quizzing each other on their names. He's smart. He keeps me on my toes."

Hasselbeck is surprised by how much command Luck already has in the locker room. He's seen Luck approach a receiver, a defensive player, a coach -- always striking the right tone.

"He's got the right mix of confidence and straightforwardness and massaging the situation and showing a lot of respect, yet being honest," Hasselbeck said. "That's a hard thing. You see some quarterbacks, they'll pout, they'll complain to somebody else; they don't understand the power they have. He does a really good job of that."

Donald Thomas, who was signed this offseason by the Colts to start at left guard, spent the past two seasons with the New England Patriots. After playing with Tom Brady, Thomas wasn't sure what to expect from the much younger Luck.

"With where I came from, and with Tom (Brady), you just know" that the quarterback is in charge, Thomas said. "You know (Brady) knows what to do. And when I got into the huddle with (Luck), I got the same feeling. That really did surprise me a little."

So did hearing Luck speak German. Luck, who spent part of his childhood in Germany, had become disconnected from the language in recent years. After the Colts drafted defensive end Bjoern Werner -- who is from Berlin -- Luck told Werner that, in the interest of relearning German, he would speak to him only in the rookie's native language.

"He did it yesterday on the field -- talking to Bjoern in German -- it was hilarious," Thomas said. "I asked him, 'What'd you say?' "


"He told me, but I can't repeat it," Thomas said, laughing. "But it was all in fun."

'Judged on merit'

One day, after a practice during his time at Stanford, Luck was asked to address his Cardinal teammates. His message: "Football is the great meritocracy in our society. No matter what you say, nothing you say will speak louder than what you do on the football field. You will be judged on merit."

Pep Hamilton was Luck's quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Stanford. He said Luck's nature -- he's always been well-grounded -- and understanding of his surroundings helped him replace Manning, seemingly without experiencing a hint of anxiety.

"I told him a long time ago," Hamilton said, "to focus on the things you can control. And he does that."

Hamilton took over as Colts offensive coordinator after the ultra-popular Bruce Arians became head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in January. Wayne called the departure of Arians "bittersweet," because he was happy for his former coordinator to get the opportunity, but hated to see him go. And initially, Wayne wasn't sure what to make of Hamilton.

"I asked Andrew what he thought," Wayne said.

Luck's response: "We got the right guy."

"Once you hear that," Wayne said, "I can kind of (exhale) a little bit."

One of Hamilton's first requests was to add a fullback on the roster, and he got one in Stanley Havili. Luck believes he has plenty of playmakers; the Colts believe they've upgraded his protection.

Where the Arians offense was built around big plays, Hamilton's is more about progression.

"I don't know if it's fair to pigeon-hole our offense as West Coast, East Coast or (anything else)," Hamilton said. "Our approach is to not waste plays."

And to limit interceptions? "Yes, but I call them interruptions. We don't say 'interceptions' (here)."

Luck believes he can improve across the board. He mentions veteran teammates, including Wayne, who are still striving to get better.

"Us young guys, we've got no excuses," Luck said. "We'd better be getting better."

For obvious reasons, Luck is far ahead of his teammates when it comes to learning Hamilton's offense, and he is also in command of it. Teammates say Luck has a succinct response -- "Shut up!" -- when players get too chatty in the huddle.

"His confidence and control of the huddle is different now," Allen said. "He had that in Year 1, but it wasn't as convincing. This year, it's very convincing. Guys respect him."

Apparently, Luck keeps everyone honest with the playbook and execution.

"Whenever Pep makes a mistake in the meetings or on the field, Andrew is there to be able to say, 'That's not right,' " Wayne said.

So Luck corrects the offensive coordinator?

"Yep," a smiling Wayne said. "I've asked Pep a couple times, 'Whose offense is this?' Andrew is really comfortable. And whenever your leader is that comfortable, you know you're going to be good."

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports.

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