Analysis

Indianapolis Colts' offense poised for serious run at Super Bowl

INDIANAPOLIS -- When the conversation went down recently, the one between the 12-year veteran wide receiver and a quarterback eight years younger, Andrew Luck took a stance that might have generally thrown someone with Andre Johnson's pedigree off guard.

Luck controlled the discussion. He told Johnson what he expects for this Indianapolis Colts team, and what he expects from Johnson specifically. In other words, yes, even when talking to a player who's been to seven Pro Bowls, Luck acted like a full-fledged veteran leader.

"When (Luck) wants something done a certain way, he's going to come to you to tell you how he wants it done," Johnson said Tuesday. "I think that's what makes him great."

Don't mistake Luck's assertiveness for arrogance. And don't confuse his confidence with disrespect. As Luck made clear earlier Tuesday, he is humbled to be throwing passes to a highly accomplished receiver he grew up watching.

Still, just because the Colts' offense is suddenly stocked with veteran studs like Johnson, running back Frank Gore and guard Todd Herremans, this firmly remains Luck's group. And a trip to the Super Bowl -- the obvious goal in Indianapolis, no matter whom you ask -- will rely heavily on Luck's success.

Luck has a sharp sense of self-awareness, bolstered by his own offseason self-evaluation, and this might be the first year when we can truly look at him as a legitimate veteran. No longer a rookie, nor the NFL's version of a budding teenager, Luck has reached a point where his time is very much in the now. Based on his talk with Johnson, he seems to know it.

That was the takeaway at the outset of mandatory minicamp, which has provided the most official look at a roster built with the clear purpose of surpassing the New England Patriots -- as well as every other AFC team -- and representing the conference in Super Bowl 50. Even last year, when the Colts went to the AFC Championship Game, it felt like this team had room to grow around Luck.

The offensive additions of Johnson and Gore, two players who chose the Colts because of a quarterback who gives them a shot at winning that elusive Super Bowl ring, means Indianapolis' plan is no longer simply about growing.

"It's about winning," Gore said.

So, can the Colts continue to ascend this year, taking the next step to Super Bowl Sunday?

With 12 players on their roster over 30, the Colts will be one of the league's oldest groups in 2015. The additions of Gore, Johnson and Herremans -- as well as 32-year-old Trent Cole on the defensive side of the ball -- only furthered the impression that Indianapolis is suddenly long in the tooth. But that seems overstated when you analyze the actual makeup of this group.

The Colts want to win right now, but it's not like this offense is built for offseason self-destruction if they don't. The unit is instead constructed with young, rising talent (in addition to Luck, of course, check out wide receivers T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett) supplemented with savvy veterans. With Indy entering Year 3 under offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, the Colts should now have a good grasp of the system, too, allowing everyone to be more assertive in 2015.

Without question, there remain many intricate ways -- both on offense and defense -- in which the Colts can improve enough to make a Super Bowl jump. Balance, something head coach Chuck Pagano says is finally present in Indianapolis, will play an imperative role.

But those previously mentioned names -- the stars, young and old -- will be the most fun to watch. Let's start with Luck. It's hard to be too upset with any quarterback who throws 40 touchdown passes in a season. But Luck said this week that he still knows what his priority must be as he looks to improve in 2015. Along with those 40 scoring strikes, he also threw 16 interceptions, and he knows he must improve that ratio.

"It's my No. 1 goal as a quarterback, aside from obviously winning a Super Bowl," Luck said.

In order to improve, Luck has thoroughly investigated last season's interceptions, so he can find out how they happened. Some were the result of tipped passes, but predominantly, Luck said, they stemmed from bad decisions (mental) or bad throws (physical). He is focused on improving both areas. The easiest way to fix those issues? Avoid forcing passes.

"Take a sack and let the best punter in football (Pat McAfee) put it down there," Luck said.

So if the Colts can get improved play from Luck, which is certainly a reasonable scenario, the question becomes whether Johnson and Gore have enough left in the tank to propel their respective units into a new tier of success.

Luck says both players seem more than capable, as evidenced by their approach during practice. Luck noted that Gore, specifically, has displayed an ability to read the defense in a manner the QB never knew possible in his first three pro seasons. He said Gore will often read defenders' body language -- including the level of tilt in the safety's body -- to decide how to attack.

"He puts himself in position to succeed, and I'm sure glad he's here with us," Luck said.

Gore could also benefit from the plethora of solid options in the passing game -- we haven't even mentioned tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener -- given that rarely in his career has the veteran back seen a defense focus more on the pass than the run.

"I've never seen a six-man front," Gore said. "With the weapons we have, and with Andrew Luck, one of the top QBs in the league, I think it should be a light box. Hopefully, this year, it happens. And hopefully, I can take advantage of it."

All high hopes, no doubt, in Indianapolis. All largely justified by the year-to-year progress the offense is making with Luck at quarterback.

Are the Colts built for a Super Bowl run? It won't be long before we find out. But there seems to be very little question inside this locker room that Luck, now a savvy veteran with playoff experience, is ready to give it a shot.

And it seems his teammates are ready for the ride.

"I think we can accomplish a lot," Johnson said. "I think we have a lot of weapons here. We have a lot of guys who can make plays. I don't think you can key on one guy. But we have to put in the work. It looks good on paper.

"But we need to make sure it goes down on Sundays."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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