By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Determined to hit the ground running at his first professional training camp, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck spent four days recently working out in South Florida with wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
“I got a chance to go down to Miami and work out with Reggie at ‘The U’ which was a neat experience,” he said Saturday after reporting to camp at Anderson University. “You know, as a kid, you grow up hearing about all the athletes that go to Miami to train. And it definitely is that atmosphere (you hear about). So it was nice to be down there with him.”
Wayne gave the quarterback rave reviews for his work. He had just one small nit to pick. Concerning fashion.
“I was kind of disappointed on the last day,” the veteran wideout said. “He showed up in a Stanford outfit. I guess he couldn’t do all four days in Miami stuff.”
The pair were joined by wide receivers Donnie Avery and Griff Whalen in a sort of accelerated learning session aimed at making up for lost time. Luck missed all 10 of the team’s OTA practices in May while he was finishing up his college degree, returning in time only for a three-day full-squad minicamp in June. Luck also participated in a three-day rookie camp last week, ending Friday just before the Colts reported to training camp.
Wayne said the sessions were anything but easy, and he made sure the players continued to work even in inclement weather.
“You only have so many days, but we were able to get a lot in those days,” Wayne said. “We got it in the rain and everything. So I didn’t let their frequent flyer miles go to waste.”
That work ethic is pervasive as Indianapolis prepares a march back to respectability following last season’s 2-14 train wreck. The Colts have 39 players with one year or fewer of NFL experience on the roster, and several of those young faces will be looked upon to produce quickly this fall.
“They're in for a lot of hard work,” defensive end Cory Redding, signed in March as a free agent from the Baltimore Ravens, said. “It’s a lot of fun going through this process and not knowing what’s going on, you know, a lot of uncertainties. It’s vets like myself, you help them calm down by giving them your pads to carry, giving them your helmet, all that kind of stuff. Making them do some extra stuff. That’s what calms them down. It’s training camp. You’ve got to have fun with them.”
So will those rules apply even to Luck, the top choice in April’s NFL draft and the 22-year-old charged with replacing four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning as the leader of the offense?
“He can’t get off the hook just because he’s a rookie,” Redding said. “It’s all about having fun and team chemistry and building and all those kinds of things. So it’s all good.”
In reality, the youngsters will be doing much more than carrying pads. Rookies, or second-year players, could factor into the lineup along the offensive line, in the offensive and defensive backfields and at defensive end. There are a number of jobs to be filled and plenty of fresh faces ready for the opportunity to take them.
It reminds more than one observer of 1998, when Manning was a rookie and Indianapolis was fighting back from a 3-13 season. But quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen draws parallels from much more recent memories.
“Probably the last time I felt like this was when I (was the receivers coach in 2009), and we had Pierre (Garcon) and Austin (Collie) and we needed a couple of young guys to come through,” Christensen said. “It feels kind of that same way. They’ve done some work. They’ve got some talent. Now, can they go do it when the lights are on and the stakes are a little bit higher?”
The Colts went 14-2 and advanced to Super Bowl XLIV in that 2009 season. Nobody is predicting similar success this year. But that doesn’t mean expectations are low.
Especially for Luck, who already has drawn comparisons to Manning and two-time Super Bowl champion John Elway for his polish as a college quarterback.
Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians tutored Manning, Cleveland’s Tim Couch and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger during their rookie campaigns. Manning still holds the rookie standard with 26 touchdown passes, and Roethlisberger has the best quarterback rating for a rookie at 98.1. Couch was the No. 1 overall pick with the Browns and also was highly thought of coming out of Kentucky.
“(Luck) has a little bit of Peyton, a little bit of Timmy Couch and a little bit of Ben,” Arians said. “It’s scary how good he can be. I’m really anxious to see him develop and watch him grow because he’s got the best of all three of those guys.”