The Herald Bulletin

September 8, 2013

Luck prepares for second time around

By George Bremer The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck isn’t trying to sell anybody foot-long sandwiches. Nor is he the star of a cutesy commercial centered around the conceit that he was bred since childhood to become an unstoppable video game character.

He doesn’t pretend to open his jersey, presumably to reveal a Superman shield underneath, after every score. In fact, he does as little as possible to draw any attention to himself at all.

New teammate Darrius Heyward-Bey describes the Indianapolis Colts quarterback as goofy, but in a good way. And Luck remains more famous nationally as the man who replaced Peyton Manning than for anything he’s done on the field so far.

That all could be about to change.

Luck recently signed his first big endorsement deal — with audio equipment manufacturer Klipsch — though advertisements aren’t expected to begin showing up until after the current football season comes to an end.

By then, the second-year quarterback could be providing the company far more bang for its buck.

With an offense tailored to his strengths, and a year of experience under his belt, Luck is a popular pick as a breakout player this fall.

“I think he’s outstanding,” said Raiders head coach Dennis Allen, who will face the quarterback for the first time today. “He’s a guy that, obviously, he’s going to continue to get better. I think he’s obviously set to be one of the top quarterbacks in this league. I think this guy is just a really good player.

“He’s got a strong arm. He’s very intelligent. He knows where to go with the ball. He can throw the ball accurately. I’ve been real impressed with Andrew Luck.”

The 23-year-old entered the league with impossibly high expectations and somehow managed to exceed them.

Coming from a royal bloodline — he’s the fourth Stanford quarterback to be picked No. 1 overall — greatness was demanded of Luck from Day 1. He delivered with seven game-winning drives, four fourth-quarterback comebacks and a rookie record 4,374 passing yards.

But Washington’s Robert Griffin III — just as he had in the Heisman Trophy balloting the year before — beat Luck out for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Critics pointed to Luck’s low completion percentage (54.1) and high interception (18) numbers.

But they missed how easily he stepped into — and commanded — a high-risk vertical passing offense. The bulk of the Colts’ fortunes was placed on Luck’s shoulders each week, and he delivered 11 victories and an AFC wild card playoff berth.

Through three preseason appearances in 2013, he looks even better.

“For as much success as he had in Year 1, all the fourth-quarter comebacks and that type of thing, the game is slowing down for him even more,” head coach Chuck Pagano said. “From that standpoint, there’s a certain comfort level. He’s always had great command of the offense and the huddle, things like that. You can just see it growing and growing with each and every day.”

There’s been a calm around the quarterback since the first day of offseason training activities this spring. And he’s been efficient on the field — getting rid of the football quickly and making the right reads. New offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s offense is more progression-based than departed Bruce Arians’ scheme.

It takes advantage of Luck’s ability to quickly process information and predict where the openings in a defense will be. But the quarterback is hesitant to call the system a better fit than the offense he set records in a year ago.

“I don’t know, I learned a lot last year, and we had a chance to win some games,” he said. “But I am excited to be with Pep. I really respect and love playing for him, but football is football at the end of the day, too, no matter what scheme it is.”

Teammates are less bashful in proclaiming Luck’s fit in the new system. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo said the wide-eyed stare most rookies develop is gone this season. Tight end Dwayne Allen said Luck’s command in the huddle has gone to the next level, and wide receiver Reggie Wayne told Sports Illustrated’s MMQB website that the rest of the offense still is catching up to Luck in this scheme.

It’s pretty heady stuff for a player entering just his second professional season. But everything appears to be lining up for Luck’s encore to be an even bigger hit than his debut.

“Obviously, having a new offense that he’s very familiar with will help the whole offense, the team and Andrew as an individual,” tight end Coby Fleener said. “I think the sky’s the limit for Andrew.”