By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck's rapid ascension in his first two NFL seasons has surprised even some of his former college teammates.
"I knew he was an incredible player," Stanford guard David Yankey said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "At the time, we thought he was the best player in college football. But I didn't realize exactly how good he was until he got to the NFL and started playing."
Luck is the first quarterback to throw for more than 8,000 combined yards in his first two seasons and has led the Indianapolis Colts to playoff berths in both years. In January, he led the second-biggest comeback in NFL history, rallying Indianapolis from a 28-point deficit to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 45-44 in the AFC Wild Card round.
But pass protection, especially on the interior of the offensive line, has been an issue. Yankey is the top-rated guard on NFL Media draft expert Mike Mayock's pre-combine list but could last to the second day because of the depth of this year's class.
A record 102 underclassmen declared for May's draft, including Yankey — who already has graduated from Stanford but has one year of eligibility remaining.
"I wasn't focused on what the other guys were doing," Yankey said. "It was about me and where I was heading."
For his first two years as a starter, Yankey played in current Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's scheme. The experience gave him a power-blocking background many of his peers lack.
"Pep is awesome," Yankey said. "I loved having him as a coach. He's a guy who is really witty and keeps things fun in meetings. But he also has great schemes. It's pretty evident from the job he's done in Indy."
MORE LOVE FOR LUCK: San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh shrugged off many questions during his 15 minutes on the podium at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The former Colts quarterback was not as elusive, however, when the subject turned to the current Indianapolis signal-caller.
Harbaugh, who coached Luck for three years at Stanford, got a first-hand look at the pro version when the Colts defeated the Niners 27-7 on Sept. 22. He saw exactly what he expected to see, a player on the rise who will only continue to get better.
"He's got a great work ethic," Harbaugh said. "He has a great love of the game. He loves weight lifting. He loves the practices, the running, the meetings. He loves football. Andrew has a great competitive heart and a desire to be great. You're going to see that growth from him every year."
IRISH EYES ON MARTIN: Former Notre Dame offensive tackle Zach Martin turned some heads with his performances in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game and the Pinstripe Bowl in December.
Now the 6-foot-4, 308-pounder is battling to make a name for himself in a deep class that includes standouts Jake Matthews of Texas A&M, Greg Robinson of Auburn and Taylor Lewan of Michigan at his position.
"They're great players, but at the same time I think I'm a great player, too," Martin said. "All I can do is just work hard."
ODDS AND ENDS: Second-year Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley is expected to be a guest at Friday's Indiana Pacers practice. Bradley reportedly is a fan of Pacers head coach Frank Vogel. ... Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said the team plans to meet with three top quarterbacks — Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Central Florida's Blake Bortles — in Indianapolis. Jacksonville holds the third overall pick. ... New Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt sounded intrigued by returning quarterback Jake Locker's potential. But Whisenhunt sidestepped a question about the future of running back Chris Johnson, saying the roster evaluation process still is in its early stages. ... New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick made a rare combine podium appearance. Always the competitor, Belichick's surprise news conference took place at 3 p.m. — the same time New York Jets general manager John Idzik was speaking with the media.