Luck heads into opener with different perspective
The Andrew Luck that shows up Sunday afternoon won't be the same guy NFL fans watched last season.
Gone is the wide-eyed rookie who had to navigate all the twists and turns of an improbably challenging first season in Indianapolis.
This year, the Colts' franchise quarterback is more confident, more relaxed and even more determined to improve his team and the guys around him.
While it seems like a natural progression for last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-up, those who have been around the league a while believe Luck remains ahead of the curve.
''What sticks out to me is his attention to detail, how much he commands the huddle and the perfection he expects,'' defensive end Cory Redding said Monday. ''He went back, all the way to Week 1 (last year), to see all of the mistakes he made so he could correct them. That's the kind of guy he is.''
It's one of the reasons Indianapolis mortgaged the future on taking Luck with the top overall pick in the 2012 draft. It hasn't taken those inside the organization long to figure out they were right.
Luck began last year at a decided disadvantage. Because league rules prohibit college players from practicing with their veteran teammates until they finish college classes, which in Luck's case was mid-June, he missed most of Indy's offseason workouts. Predictably, things didn't go as well as Luck had hoped early. He threw one touchdown pass and three interceptions in last year's season-opening 41-21 loss at Chicago, and the disparity in performances between home and road games continued right through midseason.
While the turnovers never really dissipated, Luck still found a way to set NFL rookie records for yards passing (4,374), attempts (627), 300-yard games (six) and fourth-quarter comebacks (seven); presided over a historic nine-game improvement; won 11 games; and took the Colts to the playoffs.
This year, he's ready to show everyone he's better.
With a full offseason to delve into tape, work out with teammates and relearn the offense he ran at Stanford, Luck has been working overtime to fix the flaws. He heads into Sunday's opener with a new perspective on NFL life.
''A little bit, just by virtue of having played in an NFL game before,'' Luck said when asked whether he's more relaxed this September than last. ''Knowing what pregame is like, knowing who runs out of the tunnel and where, things of that nature. Again, it's still very exciting.''
While most analysts expect Luck to improve his overall numbers, things have certainly changed - on and off the field.
He understands the nooks and crannies of this offense better than anyone in the locker room, is quicker to throw the ball away to avoid taking unnecessary hits, and is no longer concerned about creating waves with opinions during team meetings.
The Colts like what they've seen.
''He's not afraid to speak his mind, and that's what you want from your quarterback - someone who speaks his mind,'' five-time Pro Bowler Robert Mathis said.
The real test, of course, is whether it translates into productivity.
A year ago, in Bruce Arians' high-risk, high-reward offense, Luck completed 54.1 percent of his passes, threw 23 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions, and was sacked 41 times.
In limited preseason action in Hamilton's offense, Luck completed 65.9 percent of his preseason passes, threw four touchdowns and one interception, and took only two sacks. Of course, the new emphasis on power-running and shorter throws had something to do with those numbers.
But so did Luck.
''I just feel like he's more confident, more of a leader that takes charge, even in the meeting room,'' second-year running back Vick Ballard said. ''I think it's the fact that he's in his second year in the league and he's going to keep building from here.''
Few teams have made the transition from a star such as Peyton Manning to the next, Luck, so seamlessly. Just ask the Raiders, who still have not announced whether Matt Flynn or Terrell Pryor will start Sunday.
And the Colts know just how lucky they are.
''We're in an ideal situation. I know some aren't,'' coach Chuck Pagano said. ''But whoever that (guy) is, that guy that's got to go in and take snaps, you're going to, whether the menu goes from here to here and there's certain things that that guy can do well, you're going to curtail your offense based on what that guy can do, and what he can do well and how he can move the offense and matriculate them down the field.''
The new-look Luck can do all that. His teammates can't wait to see the results.
''With everything he did last year, you can't really ask for anything more out of him,'' Redding said. ''But he's progressed every week until now, breaking things down and getting better. That's exactly the way you want a quarterback to develop.''
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