NEW ORLEANS -- It's entirely possible that nobody outside the San Francisco 49ers' organization better understands the dynamic between head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick than Indianapolis Colts quarterback and 2012 first-overall draft pick Andrew Luck. Of course, Luck starred for the Stanford Cardinal for Harbaugh in 2009 and 2010 before Harbaugh went north to Candlestick Park, but there's another interesting connection. When Luck attended the Manning Passing academy in 2010, he met and became impressed with Kaepernick, who was a lanky, underrated quarterback from Nevada.
When Luck returned to Stanford, he gave his coach the scoop -- this Kaepernick kid was one to watch.
I caught up with Luck on Wednesday at an NFL Play 60 event sponsored by Quaker, and he recalled what he liked about the man who is now just a few days away from a Super Bowl -- just two seasons after the 49ers selected him in the draft.
"I'm sure I said that, though I don't remember it -- it was a long time ago," Luck said about the specific recommendation. "But I've always been very impressed with Colin, as a person and as a quarterback. I've always spoken very highly of him, so I'm sure at some point, in one of our conversations [with Harbaugh], his name came up and I gave him my honest opinion. Which we know was very high."
What stood out about Kaepernick? As Luck recalls, there was a lot of everything involved.
"I think he's always had a very calm, cool demeanor -- nothing's too big for him, and that shows now. Obviously, his running ability is incredible, as well as his throwing ability."
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Kaepernick is one of the new wave of mobile quarterbacks, along with Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, who have taken the NFL by storm. But what some don't realize about Luck is that he can truck it on the ground when he's asked to as well -- in his three years at Stanford under Harbaugh and then David Shaw, Luck gained 957 yards and scored seven rushing touchdowns on 163 carries. That extrapolated to the NFL, where Luck ran 62 times for 255 yards and five touchdowns in his rookie campaign.
As it turns out, Kaepernick isn't the first quarterback directed to run under Jim Harbaugh.
"What Coach Harbaugh always said is that if a quarterback can pick up a first down with his legs, it's demoralizing for a defense," Luck remembered. "To be able to throw on the run and maybe be able to change your launch point before the defense gets a chance to tee off is a big deal. I don't think you could put me on a level with RG3 and Russell in terms of athleticism, but part of running around is keeping your eyes downfield and letting plays develop."
Luck has become kind of a big deal himself, and it was an amazing and unprecedented season for his Colts. Luck led the same franchise that had won just two games in 2011 to an 11-5 record and a playoff spot, with head coach Chuck Pagano's leukemia battle and Bruce Arians' stellar job as Pagano's replacement until the coach could return. Luck said that it took a wjile to process just what he and his team went through.
"I don't think it hit me until after the season was over. Because you're so focused about what's going on. But having some time to digest it, and realize what we went through, it was great what Coach Arians did coming in and stepping in for Chuck. The foundation that Coach Pagano built was so great, and it was a special, special season to be a part of."
Of course, that foundation started with Harbaugh in a lot of ways, and Luck isn't at all surprised by his old coach's new success.
"Having played the position definitely helps," said about Harbaugh's ability to get the best out of quarterbacks. "And I know that he did a lot for me -- not just in football, but the extracurricular things that come with being a quarterback. Time management, handling the media, handling whatever expectations and pressures. I think he does a great job of communicating on all levels with all players, especially quarterbacks. He just seems to have the magic touch, I guess.
Having set coach and quarterback up to a degree, Luck is very pleased with the results of the marriage.
"I'm really happy to see those guys get a chance in the Super Bowl."
Maybe soon, the same will be said about Andrew Luck.
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