By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
It’s tough to pinpoint where it started, but Phil Simms made the myth stick.
When a former Super Bowl MVP who has become one of the top game-day analysts in the NFL questions a quarterback’s arm strength, people tend to take note.
Andrew Luck was drawing praise from nearly all corners early this spring as the buildup to April’s NFL draft marched on. But Simms, the former New York Giants quarterback under legendary coach Bill Parcells, took a little swipe at the hype during an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
“The one thing I don’t see is the big-time NFL throws,” he said. “He never takes it and rips it in there. There’s not a tremendous amount of power.”
Simms added that quarterbacks can succeed without elite arm strength, but it’s a nice tool to have in the bag for the “ four or five” times a game when a player really needs it.
A chorus of objection was raised shortly after Simms’ comments were aired, but the question has lingered.
There’s been an occasional whisper from the media throughout the Indianapolis Colts’ training camp at Anderson University this month. Sure, Luck’s accurate, but can he throw it into the tight spots? Does he have the cannon arm needed to squeeze the ball past the outstretched arms of a linebacker and into the chest of his wide receiver?
The answer whenever the hushed voices have risen to an audible tone has been a resounding yes.
“He’s impressed me with his arm strength,” said Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who has played in six Super Bowls alongside Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. “He has a short little window where he throws the ball in there real pretty. He makes all the throws.”
Vinatieri’s view has been echoed by wide receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, among a host of others.
And Luck routinely has backed it up on the field.
He threw a pair of deep touchdowns to Wayne and rookie LaVon Brazill during Monday’s afternoon practice, continuing a recent streak of at least one deep scoring strike per day.
He’s also connected on deep balls to Austin Collie, Donnie Avery and Hilton in recent days.
“The wide receivers have done a great job running their butts off, and they’re really giving us a lot of room to put the ball up there and run under it,” Luck said. “Donnie and LaVon, Collie, Reggie especially, they’ve all been really good at getting open down field and then making the catch.”
And when they don’t get so open, Luck often is squeezing throws in to them anyway.
On his third touchdown pass Monday, Luck thew a bullet to Wayne through a trio of defenders in the middle of the end zone. Two-time Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea was the last defender to make a play on the ball, waving at it helplessly as it zipped past and was cradled by Wayne.
With so much physical evidence available each and every day on the practice field, how could an analyst as smart and respected as Simms get the wrong idea?
The answer could lie in Luck’s mechanics.
In short, the 22-year-old might be too good for his own good.
His motion is so smooth and appears so effortless, it’s easy to be deceived about just how quickly the ball actually is moving.
Robert Mathis is transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker this summer, and he’s seen the optical illusion up close.
“He’s real fluid with his release,” Mathis said. “Until you catch it or try to bat it down, you don’t see how much velocity it really has. He has a real strong arm. He’s ahead of the curve. So that’s a big plus for us.”
Safety Tom Zbikowski, who pulled in one of the six interceptions Luck has thrown during camp, said last week that it’s hard to get a read on Luck’s passes.
The quarterback grew up in Jim Harbaugh’s version of the West Coast offense at Stanford that often relies on short and intermediate routes. But Luck’s not afraid to test the limits of the defense.
“He got us with a couple of deep balls the other day,” linebacker Pat Angerer said. “That kid can throw pretty good.”
He’s pretty accurate, too.
Heading into Tuesday’s night practice, Luck had completed 165 of 232 pass attempts (71.1 percent) for 15 touchdowns during training camp.
Lingering questions about arm strength aside, he’s shown about as much as he can on the practice field. Luck and the Colts will learn more about themselves on Sunday in the preseason debut against the St. Louis Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The defense loves the quarterback’s competitiveness but can’t resist tweaking his self-deprecating nature.
“Yeah, we give him a little hard time. He’s still a ‘scrub rookie,’” Mathis said, using Luck’s self-description from an interview over the weekend. “But we go as he goes. We just try to get him better every day.”