Less than a month after signing their best player to a six-year, $140 million contract, Luck and his teammates showed up at Anderson University on a mission to prove last season’s 8-8 finish was an aberration.
"Maybe there’s a little more motivation, not just because I’m coming off the injury but because of not really playing as well as you’d like," Luck said.
For Luck, things couldn’t have gone much worse last season. One of the league’s bright, young stars missed nine games with an assortment of injuries, including a lacerated kidney that forced him to watch the final seven games from the sideline as Indy’s fading playoff hopes vanished.
When Luck did play, he wasn’t himself. While the backups were a solid 6-3, Luck went a dismal 2-5 as a starter and finished with the lowest completion percentage since his rookie season. His 12 interceptions had him on pace to shatter his previous career high (18) from 2012. After the season, everyone had a suggestion — throw shorter passes, throw it away, embrace using the sideline or a baseball slide to protect himself.
But part of what makes Luck good is his ability to turn nothing into something, a trait the Colts don’t want to reel in. So they’ve worked with Luck on making better decisions.
Luck, meanwhile, spent the offseason getting healthy, reevaluating his game and his offseason routine, and figuring out how to correct the flaws opponents exposed last season.
"I’ve never seen him more motivated to have a great season in terms of taking care of himself and just working out," team owner Jim Irsay said last month, after announcing Luck’s new deal. "If you can talk about redoubling your efforts, that fire is in his eye in a special way."
Others see the evolution, too.
During a June minicamp practice at Lucas Oil Stadium, fans roared when Luck slid to a stop during a non-contact drill.
Coach Chuck Pagano believes Luck has regained the confidence in his right arm, which also was hurt last season, and in the new offense installed by coordinator Rob Chudzinski. Luck is playing in his third offensive system in five years.
On Tuesday, Luck proclaimed himself 100 percent healthy — a change from April when he said he was still working toward that goal.
Teammates sense Luck is becoming a louder voice in the meeting room and the huddle.
"He has been more vocal," left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. "In the past, he’s always kind of been, ‘OK, here’s what we need you to do.’ Now, it’s more like, ‘This is where you need to be.’"
Fans will get a glimpse into the new-look Luck when the Colts open practice Wednesday.
Plenty has changed since Indy last took the field at Anderson University, a Division III school located about 30 miles northeast of the team complex.
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was fired and replaced by Chudzinski. Backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck retired. Two of Luck’s college teammates, Coby Fleener and Griff Whalen, both left the Colts in free agency. Starting center Khaled Holmes was released in May and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen left town for a new job, too.
And Luck enters this season as the highest-paid player in league history.
To protect that investment, general manager Ryan Grigson used his first-round draft pick on center Ryan Kelly and spent three of his next seven selections on offensive linemen, too.
He really didn’t have a choice. Luck has taken more hits (375) than any other quarterback since entering the league in 2012.
Grigson is hoping Kelly will stabilize the middle of the line as Luck and his new center develop the kind of bond Jeff Saturday and Peyton Manning had previously.
But for Luck, this season is about a lot more than putting up better numbers. Luck wants to demonstrate how much he’s grown since his last game, a 27-24 victory over eventual Super Bowl champion Denver on Nov 8.
His first chance comes in the preseason on Aug. 7 against Green Bay in the annual Hall of Fame game.
"I’ve always had high expectations and probably higher than others," Luck said. "I’m the first to say that I do not pay attention to outsiders as far as expectations. Internally, the expectations have been the same since I’ve been here."