No. 1 pick Andrew Luck ready to start over in Indy
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck already has a pretty good idea of what to expect in his new NFL digs. He'll be wearing a No. 12 jersey, getting used to a new set of teammates and dealing with all those comparisons to a high-profile quarterback.
Luck went through it at Stanford, and now he'll go through the same thing in Indianapolis.
The Colts drafted Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday's NFL draft, making him the official replacement for four-time MVP Peyton Manning. For the Colts, it seemed like pure Luck.
"The most exciting part is being a part of a new locker room, new guys, that's really what I'm stoked about is getting to meet the guys," Luck said. "It exceeded all expectations on all levels, from the energy, the excitement to the media circus afterward. It was way over the proportion that I expected it to be at, which was great. This is a big deal, I guess."
It's been a big deal in Indianapolis ever since the Colts went 0-13 before winning twice in December and nearly losing the draft's top pick.
But the reward for being so bad was being fortunate enough to get a shot at what some scouts consider the next best thing to Manning: Luck.
Indianapolis didn't hesitate. A week ago, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said the Colts had made up their minds about whether to take Heisman winner Robert Griffin III or Luck, the Heisman runner-up. The next day, The Associated Press learned Luck would be the selection and new general manager Ryan Grigson confirmed the decision Tuesday.
The Colts were so prepared to make the choice that they gave Goodell a No. 12 jersey with Luck's name stitched on the back — a number that had been worn by receiver Quan Cosby as recently as Thursday morning's mini-camp workout.
"It's a new era, it's a new beginning," Grigson said. "Really, it's exciting and we got our guy. He's the one we feel is going to take us where we want to go with this thing. He shares the same vision that we all do, so we're excited."
Fourteen years after taking Manning with the top overall selection and 29 years after using the draft's No. 1 pick on another Stanford quarterback, John Elway, the Colts chose a player scouts have touted as the most NFL-ready quarterback to come out of college since those two.
What the Colts are actually getting is a younger, cheaper version of Manning.
The similarities are striking.
Both grew up with NFL-playing fathers, left their home states to attend college, returned for one more college season when the "experts" thought they should have jumped to the NFL and then finished as Heisman runner-ups. Now both have been taken No. 1 overall by the Colts, and strangely, they'll even have the same tutors.
Bruce Arians was Manning's first NFL quarterbacks coach and now he's back as Indy's offensive coordinator, and former Indy offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen is now the Colts quarterback coach.
"It is scary how similar it is," Arians said Thursday after a morning mini-camp workout. "Their styles, their personalities, their styles as players, it's all the same."
The biggest difference between Luck and his predecessor might be their perspective.
Luck is more laid back than Manning, something that struck Colts scouts when he decided to throw into the wind during his pro day at Stanford. That decision was one reason the Colts settled on Luck, but it also showed he wasn't worried about distractions.
He's scheduled to arrive in Indy on Friday, and will meet fans and reporters at a draft party inside his new home venue, Lucas Oil Stadium.
Luck is expected to attend next weekend's three-day rookie mini-camp but league rules will prevent him from practicing with the team until he completes his classes June 7. He plans to be in Indy on June 8, and the Colts can't wait to see him dressed in pads.
"I think this thing happened 14 years ago and I think that it's all happening once again right before our eyes," new coach Chuck Pagano said. "You can talk about all the measurables — his football IQ, his character his integrity, his passion for the game, his work ethic. He grew up in a football family. He's a worldly guy — he's been all over, raised all over. He's very, very humble. He's a great leader, very, very competitive. When you look at clean players across the board — height, weight, speed, intelligence — A to Z, if you want to label him a 9 or 10 in every one of those categories."
Like Peyton in 1998, Luck instantly becomes the cornerstone in Indy's biggest overhaul since 1998. He should start immediately after playing in a pro-style system at Stanford, where he was originally tutored by former Colts quarterback and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
But now he's eager to find out who will be his rookie classmates — perhaps even one of his college teammates, tight end Coby Fleener or tackle Jonathan Martin, neither of whom was drafted in the first round.
The Colts have nine more picks during draft weekend, with two Friday and seven Saturday including the final pick of the weekend, No. 253. It's the first time since 1967 that a non-expansion team will have both the first and last picks of the draft. Houston did that in its expansion season of 2002.
What Indy does with its other picks is anybody's guess.
The Colts need help at almost every position on offense, and Pagano is looking for size and depth on defense so he can run his preferred 3-4 scheme rather than Indy's traditional 4-3. He's already moved Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Mathis to linebacker and the Colts' other Pro Bowl end, Dwight Freeney, was playing both defensive end and linebacker at Thursday's workout.
And Indy is in the midst of a major rebuilding project.
Team owner Jim Irsay cleaned out the front office and changed coaching staffs in January and February. Then came the player moves in March.
The Colts released Manning on March 7 rather than paying him $28 million. Two days later, Indy cut defensive captains Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt and former Pro Bowlers Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai. They lost longtime center Jeff Saturday and emerging receiver Pierre Garcon in free agency and even dipped into free-agency to improve a leaky defense and an unproven offensive line.
But the biggest challenge in 2012, like it was in 1998, will be breaking in a new quarterback.
Luck threw for 35 touchdowns last season — breaking his school record of 32 in 2010 — and eclipsed Elway's career record (77) at Stanford with 80 touchdown passes in only three seasons. He finished with 3,170 yards passing, a 70 percent completion percentage and only nine interceptions without the benefit of an elite wide receiver in 2011.
The choice means Indy has a rare opportunity to transition from one star quarterback to another.
Miami and Denver are more the norm. Each team has spent more than a decade searching for replacements for Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and John Elway, who was drafted by the Baltimore Colts at No. 1 in 1983.
The exceptions, of course, are Green Bay and San Francisco. Both teams made seamless transitions, from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers and Joe Montana to Steve Young. All four quarterbacks won Super Bowls and the Colts are hoping they'll join that list.
Luck thinks he can do it, but only if he can play like his old self.
"I realize you could go crazy trying to measure yourself to Peyton Manning every day. That would be an insane way to live," Luck told local reporters during a conference call. "I know his legendary status, really. He was my hero growing up. Huge shoes to try and fill if you're trying to do that. I'll just put my best foot forward and work hard every day. If one day I can be mentioned alongside Peyton as one of the football greats, that would be a football dream come true."