GENERAL MANAGER Ryan Grigson tells this story about his prized rookie quarterback: A teammate asks Andrew Luck in the cafeteria at training camp why he's not on Twitter. He tells Luck it could help him build his brand and have more control over his image. Luck's reply? "Are you kidding me? I'm here for football. That's it."
The No. 1 pick last April recoils at the thought of making pronouncements on Twitter or anywhere else. "I mean, really, no one needs to hear what I have to say," Luck offers when asked about the anecdote. "I have nothing to say."
Coaches and veterans want rookies, even precocious ones, to shut their mouths and do their jobs. The less preening the better, even when they do well. So they must have appreciated Luck's reaction to the praise he received after his boffo preseason debut, when he went 10 of 16 with two touchdown passes against the Rams and looked like a six-year vet: "It's a preseason game! It means nothing! Nothing at all!"
The 2012 Colts won't be measured in wins and losses, just as the 1998 Colts weren't judged harshly when Peyton Manning, Indy's last No. 1 pick, went 3--13 in his rookie year. Luck's first season could end with three wins too, though the pass rush, led by Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, should make these Colts more competitive than the '98 team that allowed the second-most points in the league. This season will be about the care and nurturing of a quarterback who reminds so many around Indianapolis of the man he's replacing.
On the first day of rookie minicamp, Luck stepped to the line on one play and, after the middle linebacker—the Mike—had been mis-identified in a presnap read, changed the I.D. This is significant because all blocking assignments flow from the identification of the Mike when the offense comes to the line: The center takes the middle 'backer; the right guard takes the first rusher to the right; etc. When the play was run, coaches saw that Luck's audible was a better call than the original play. The point is, from the moment he arrived at training camp in Anderson, Ind., the Stanford product (and son of former Oilers quarterback Oliver Luck) showed that his reputation for painstaking preparation was well-deserved.
Beyond comprehending the offense, a young quarterback needs to understand that he's going to make mistakes, then grasp what went wrong the second he makes one. "When Andrew knows he's made the wrong choice, he'll almost always turn around and say, 'I got it, I got it—should have gone to the running back as the hot [receiver],'" says first-year coach Chuck Pagano. "He can scout himself immediately, instead of waiting for a coach to tell him or waiting to see it on tape. That means the learning process is going very fast."
"Out here," receiver Reggie Wayne said on the last day of training camp before the Colts broke for Indy, "he's been phenomenal, taking in a lot, digesting it, making every throw and taking control of the huddle. This defense here gives him a lot to [consider], and you can see it's not too big for him. I think he'll be very, very good.
"From what I've seen, I wouldn't say Luck is as [exacting] as Peyton—yet. But I can see it getting there. I can see him living in the film room. There's a lot of pressure on this dude. A lot. I can see him wanting to make his own foundation as a player and not just be in Peyton's shadow."
Right now, he's going to need help. Wayne turns 34 this year; fellow receiver Austin Collie has a history of concussions (including one in the preseason); and the Colts are trying to resuscitate the flagging career of wideout Donnie Avery. But two draftees had very good training camps: second-round tight end Coby Fleener (Luck's Stanford teammate), who will start, and receiver T.Y. Hilton, a quick, 5'9" third-rounder from Florida International.
For now, while Grigson builds the Colts around the next franchise guy, those will be the players Luck leans on. In Indianapolis it feels like the beginning of some beautiful friendships.
WITH 2011 STATS
OFFENSE 2011 RANK: 30
* CFL stats
(N) New acquisition
(R) Rookie—College stats
TTD Total touchdowns
SACKS Sacks allowed
HOLD Holding penalties
FALSE False starts
2011 Record: 2--14
9 at Chicago
7 Green Bay
14 at New York Jets
28 at Tennessee
8 at Jacksonville (Thu)
18 at New England
2 at Detroit
16 at Houston
23 at Kansas City
Scratch the image you have of Wayne lined up out wide on the left side and streaking downfield or across the defense. In the post-Manning era think of Wayne in the left or right slots, split wide on either side, and in motion—a lot. This year the Colts want to make Wayne harder to find and, theoretically, harder to double once he leaves the line of scrimmage. In training camp it was common to see Wayne communicating with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck before plays, something he didn't have to do much with Peyton Manning because he was almost always wide left. "It's been great for me," Luck says, "because I've been able to get an education on what good receivers do—where they want the ball, how they run their routes."
For a while it seemed Wayne might be running his routes elsewhere. He talked to Manning about teaming up at one of his free-agent locales, but the Colts had a three-year, $17.5 million deal on the table, and it wasn't going to be there forever. "Peyton could afford to wait," Wayne said. "I couldn't. Plus, this was home. I wanted to be here, be part of the new foundation." With the way he and Luck bonded in camp, there's a good chance Wayne—who hauled in 75 balls from various Indianapolis quarterbacks last year—could return to 100-catch form at age 34.
Percentage of catchable passes that Reggie Wayne has dropped over the past three years, second only to Larry Fitzgerald (minimum: 150 attempts).
Tackles for loss in 2011 by inside linebacker Kavell Conner, the most of any defensive player in the NFL.
Percentage of passing plays on which Colts defenders blitzed opponents, the lowest of any team in the league. Expect this number to increase significantly under new coach Chuck Pagano.
SAM RICHE/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.COM (LUCK)
The No. 1 pick has shown the same quickness of thought and capacity for study as his predecessor.
BILL FRAKES (WAYNE)