Colts’ Luck faces difficult encore at Steelers

Mike Tomlin is not a coach who impresses easily. Even the most

dominant performances by his Pittsburgh Steelers are often met with

a shrug of the shoulders and a promise to get better.

Still, even Tomlin couldn’t help but be wowed – at least a

little bit – by what he saw from Indianapolis Colts quarterback

Andrew Luck last week. All the top overall pick in April’s NFL

draft did was throw a touchdown on his first pass as a professional

and spend his four series on the field lighting up the St. Louis

Rams in a 38-3 preseason victory.

”I thought he played really well,” Tomlin said. ”I don’t mean

played really well for a rookie. I thought he played really

well.”

Period.

An encore, however, figures to be tougher Sunday night against

the Steelers (0-1). Pittsburgh’s first-string defense played

sparingly in the preseason opener against Philadelphia. Expect

players like Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons to

give Luck a lengthy look at the defense that was tops in the league

yet again last fall.

”It’ll be fun,” Luck said. ”I realize every defense is good

in the NFL, in my mind. But to have a chance to go against a great

historical defense, a great franchise, with a great fan base, will

be fun.”

Just, the Steelers hope, not for long. Though veterans Casey

Hampton and James Harrison remain sidelined by injuries, defensive

end Brett Keisel is back after missing the opener to be with his

wife for the birth of their third child.

Keisel, like Tomlin, caught a glimpse of Luck’s precocious

debut. The one thing he noticed was all the time Luck had to make

plays. The Steelers don’t plan on letting Luck get too comfortable

in the pocket.

Having a little familiarity with what the Colts are trying to do

helps. Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians spent five

seasons in the same position with Pittsburgh before being let go in

the offseason.

The exit wasn’t exactly graceful. The team announced Arians

”retired,” though the sabbatical – whether self-imposed or not –

lasted less than two weeks before the Colts tapped him to mold Luck

into Peyton Manning’s successor.

Arians insists he’s not looking for payback against his former

employer, just for his rookie to take another step forward. Arians

developed a close relationship with Pittsburgh quarterback Ben

Roethlisberger during his tenure with the Steelers, to the point

Roethlisberger did little to hide his frustration at the team’s

decision to sever ties with his mentor.

It’s a little too early to tell if Luck and Arians will develop

a similar chemistry, though Arians has already been won over by

Luck’s no-nonsense approach. Ask what he likes about his new

project and Arians doesn’t lack for answers.

”His poise, his excitement for the game,” Arians said.

”Nothing surprises me about him anymore. I kind of expect it

now.”

Yet Arians also expects a stiff test from the Steelers, who

looked a little ragged against the Eagles on both sides of the

ball. Roethlisberger is still trying to get the hang of new

coordinator Todd Haley’s diverse attack and will likely play

several series to get his feet set.

The Steelers remain without wide receiver Mike Wallace – who is

holding out for a long-term contract – and the backfield is

patchwork at best. Though running back Rashard Mendenhall was

activated off the physically unable to perform list Friday, his

surgically repaired right knee is still a long way from being good

enough to play. Backup Isaac Redman tweaked his groin during the

week and is out while Jonathan Dwyer is nursing a bum shoulder.

Dwyer was healthy enough to practice Thursday and Friday, though

rookie Chris Rainey and second-year back Baron Batch are expected

to get the bulk of the work against the Colts.

”(Rainey) has done some things that get you excited,” Haley

said. ”As an offensive staff, we’re all kind of encouraged to see

a young guy not be afraid to step up and make plays. It’s a

testament to him and the way that he prepares. He’s obviously

studying hard because we’ve asked him to do a lot of different

things.”

Something Luck can identify with. Improving on his electric

debut will be difficult. First-year coach Chuck Pagano doesn’t need

Luck to light up the Steelers to know his rookie is heading in the

right direction.

”(We’re looking for) steady progress, handling the offense, his

command of the huddle, continuing to make great decisions, not

forcing things,” Pagano said. ”He’s trying to get better every

day out here. … He’s his own worst critic. He’s not hard on

himself but he understands he’s got a long way to go too.”

AP Sports Writer Mike Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this

report.

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