By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
Last year at this time, Andrew Luck was in class at Stanford finishing up his degree in architecture design. So he missed the 10 voluntary practices marked as “organized team activities” that allow the offense to go against the defense in shorts and helmets for often energetic scrimmages.
On Wednesday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, Luck reflected on his first three days of OTAs and said the experience is another that will help him improve for his second season as the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback.
“I think it’s great to get out on the field with the defense and troubleshoot some stuff,” he said. “Obviously, I guess all of us haven’t run this offense, we ran so much stuff at Stanford. To get out there with the defense and to feel the offense, to troubleshoot some stuff is good. Just to be out on the field with the guys going against something other than air is fun.”
Reunited with his offensive coordinator at Stanford, Pep Hamilton, Luck looked sharp in the first full practice of the offseason open to the media.
He threw touchdown passes to tight end Dwyane Allen and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on back-to-back plays during red-zone drills and later added a scoring strike to former Cardinal teammate Griff Whalen.
But the play of the day was a perfectly placed ball on a corner route that Hilton somehow managed to pull down while getting both feet inside the back of the end zone at full speed. The touchdown was one of the rare times Wednesday when the offense was able to get the best of free agent cornerback addition Greg Toler.
Expectations again are high for Luck after he set a rookie record with 4,374 passing yards. And, predictably, he’s already begun to impress.
“He just goes out and plays and doesn’t realize how young he is and just has had a nice camp,” quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said. “Everything I said last year, he’s bright, he’s on it, he enjoys it. There’s a guy who loves football and couldn’t be around here a ton (in the offseason) so we’re pleased where he is.”
The Colts have three more days of OTAs next week and four the week following that.
Offseason work will conclude with a mandatory mini-camp June 11-13. The middle practice of that camp, on June 12, will be open to the public free of charge at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Luck said it’s important Indianapolis uses this time wisely to prepare for training camp beginning sometime in late July at Anderson University.
“I think the main goal is to go into training camp the best that we can be,” he said. “I know that’s quite vague and a bit of a cliché, but we just got finished with this OTA. We’ll focus on coming in tomorrow, getting some good work in and then the next OTA, which is next Tuesday. We’re not going to take these days for granted. We realize we only get so many of them. We’ll work hard. To put ourselves to go into training camp with a healthy, winning football team is what I think is the main goal.”
WERNER ON THE MOVE: Rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner shifted from side to side during Wednesday’s practice, but he worked exclusively as the “rush” linebacker with free agent addition Erik Walden playing the “sam” position.
Veteran Robert Mathis will start on the rush side this season, but he was absent from the voluntary workout. And Werner made the most of his opportunity.
“Just different packages, they just put me there (on the right or left),” he said. “And, you know, just flip-flopped me around where they could use me.”
The former Florida State star will compete with Walden and Mathis for playing time in the fall, but linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald said that’s a good problem to have. He said the coaches will have some good players standing next to them on the sidelines at times next season as the competition for playing time heats up.
Werner’s natural ability to quickly pick up new concepts, and his versatility, should aid his cause.
“We’re just trying to put him into the whole picture,” FitzGerald said. “He’s going to learn his responsibilities (at rush linebacker). What I see from him is the ability to play ‘rush’ linebacker or ‘sam’ linebacker somewhere down the road. So he’s setting his feet, he’s getting wet. I think we’ve got him in the right spot right now, but we will have flexibility with him in time as he develops.”
ANGERER STILL ON MEND: A broken foot suffered during the first preseason game cost inside linebacker Pat Angerer five games last season and limited him to just two starts.
The injury was still enough of a concern Wednesday to keep the former Iowa star on the sideline during OTAs. And the idol time is starting to get to him.
“It’s hard not to (push it), man,” Angerer said. “You are just bored. But I ramped it up a bit and am feeling good.”
Angerer was one of several players watching the proceedings either due to injury or a scheduled day of rest. Included in that group were defensive end Cory Redding, rookie safety John Boyett, nose tackle Brandon McKinney, defensive end Fili Moala, safety Larry Asante and safety Joe Lefeged.
Four other players — outside linebacker Robert Mathis, wide receiver Reggie Wayne, safety LaRon Landry and offensive guard Donald Thomas — missed the practice all together.
Angerer said he’s unsure whether he’ll be cleared for full practice before the end of OTAs.
“I’ll get an MRI here sometime, I don’t know, figure it out and see,” he said. “It feels better now than it did all last year.”
TOLER IMPRESSES IN RED ZONE: The Colts defense intercepted two passes Wednesday — one by cornerback Cassius Vaughn on a Matt Hasselbeck pass that would have been returned 100 yards for a score and one by inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who first tipped the ball into the air before pulling it down in the end zone against Andrew Luck.
Undrafted rookie cornerback Daxton Swanson also made a nice play in the back of the end zone to break up a touchdown reception for wide receiver LaVon Brazill.
But the clear defensive MVP on Wednesday was cornerback Greg Toler. The fifth-year veteran, signed away from the Arizona Cardinals to replace Jerraud Powers, broke up passes intended for tight end Coby Fleener and wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton during red-zone drills.
He showed the athleticism and instincts that made him an offseason priority for general manager Ryan Grigson.
“We’re really happy with Greg,” defensive secondary coach Mike Gillhamer said. “He’s coming here with a great attitude. He’s so powerful. He might be the big-game cat, like a cheetah or something. He’s just so powerful and can spring, and his attitude’s been awesome. He’s been everything that we hoped he’d be.”