By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — There’s been an added air of confidence around Andrew Luck as he starts his second NFL season.
And it was never more evident than Thursday afternoon when he met the media for the second time during training camp at Anderson University.
He was as relaxed as he’s ever been in front of the microphones, recorders and cameras — even cracking a few jokes during a session that ran a little more than 10 minutes.
He’s shown the same quiet ease on the field, stepping comfortably back into Pep Hamilton’s offense — the same system he guided during his final season at Stanford — and accepting a greater leadership role in the locker room.
The shadow of Peyton Manning always will hover over his career, but Luck seems to be taking even that massive comparison in perfect stride.
Told that Manning holds NFL passing records with both Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, Luck didn’t hesitate to apply that standard to his own career.
“We’ve heard about balls wouldn’t touch the ground through a whole practice,” Luck said. “That’s where we want to get as an offense, and that’s the benchmark that has been set. So it would be awesome to do that. We know it takes a lot of work, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen by taking reps off, taking days off. Those are all true professionals doing it. So that’s where I would love to get to with the guys here, and I am sure they feel the same way.”
He’s off to a good start in camp so far.
Luck has completed 106 of 164 passes (64.6 percent), and he's recently begun hitting the deep balls as well. He connected with Darrius Heyward-Bey for a gain of more than 50 yards on Wednesday and hit Reggie Wayne for an 80-yard touchdown on Thursday.
The passing numbers are all the more impressive when factoring in how active the Colts defensive backs have been. Cornerbacks Greg Toler, Vontae Davis and Darius Butler have each shined, and Cassius Vaughn — currently fourth in the pecking order — is coming on strong as well.
There's a swagger to the defense that has matched the renewed confidence in Luck.
"They are playing with a fun confidence, and they are really pushing our guys on offense, myself included, to really make plays, and they're flying around," Luck said. "I am sure Year 2 in the defense, there are a lot of guys that are more familiar. They can play faster and don't have to think about it as much. So it's been a challenge and been fun going up against those guys."
Luck is attacking that defense with some new faces among his supporting cast. Heyward-Bey signed as a free agent from Oakland, and the offensive line has a pair of new starters in left guard Donald Thomas and right tackle Gosder Cherilus.
Thomas and Cherilus are part of a new commitment to the running game, joining free agent running back Ahmad Bradshaw — who has yet to practice as he recovers from a foot injury.
Head coach Chuck Pagano said the new linemen and the running game are among the factors the team is focusing on to improve Luck's ability to move freely in the pocket.
"That first line is coming together, the cohesiveness is coming together," Pagano said. "So from a protection standpoint, those guys are doing a great job giving him plenty of time. The run game is going to help him. We are getting the ball out of his hand with the quick game, screens, those type of things, which is going to help him, and he's managing things. He's had a hiccup like they all are going to have here and there, but as far as from a progression standpoint, he is well on his way to having another great year."