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
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
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 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
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
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
”(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
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