Through the pre-draft process, the two quarterbacks with the most hype were unquestionably Stanford's Andrew Luck and Baylor's Robert Griffin III. And through the first three weeks of the preseason, the two most productive rookie quarterbacks have unquestionably been Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks and Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles. While that fact doesn't necessarily put more pressure on Luck and RG3 -- Wilson and Foles are mid-round draft picks who have seen more time against sub-string defenses -- the Saturday afternoon meeting between the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins will put the two big-time guys in the spotlight perhaps as never before.
For Luck, the NFL ride has been a bumpy but education-filled process. After slicing the St. Louis Rams' defense to ribbons in his NFL debut, the first-overall pick found the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting 11 to be a much tougher go. What people saw -- and what impressed as expected -- was Luck's ability to persevere after adversity ... to have the "amnesia" after bad plays required of any great player. After completing 10 of 16 passes for 168 yards and two scores against the Rams in a 38-3 win, Luck completed 16 of 25 for 175 yards and two picks against Dick LeBeau's more advanced Steelers staff in a 26-24 loss. But the scoring drives he led after those two interceptions -- 10 plays for 80 yards, and 9 plays for 74 yards, and two rushing touchdowns -- impressed everybody on both sides of the field.
"He's a tough kid," Pittsburgh defensive end Brett Keisel said after that game. "He's a good quarterback. I think he's going to play a long time. [Colts offensive coordinator] Bruce [Arians, who used to serve the same function for the Steelers] is, I'm sure, a happy man."
A happier man was Colts first-year head coach Chuck Pagano. Coaches know that rookie quarterbacks will make mistakes -- the true test comes in their ability to recover.
"He was able to come back and put it behind him just like he always has," Pagano said. "We saw the same thing in college. He's able to bring his team back from behind so it was nothing surprising to us to see him come back and put those kinds of drives together."
In his preseason to date, Luck has shown enough to give us a pretty good read on his future. Greg Cosell of NFL Films and ESPN NFL Matchup was sufficiently impressed when he discussed Luck in his most recent Shutdown Corner podcast.
"I watched the Steelers game on TV, and then, I watched the tape," Cosell said. "I was more impressed after I watched the tape. The Steelers practiced their blitzes, and they're a very good blitzing team. But Luck was very decisive with his reads and throws against a difficult defense. I thought that he was aware, before the snap, of what he was looking at, in terms of the Steelers' alignments. His footwork at the top of his drop was very, very good. He was balanced and ready to deliver. His pocket command and composure was excellent, and his ball location has been outstanding."
For Griffin, things have been far less conclusive.
Head coach Mike Shanahan has used the quarterback he traded several first-round draft picks to get very sparingly to date, and in a 7-6 win over the Buffalo Bills and a 33-31 loss to the Chicago Bears, Griffin has completed just 9 of 14 passes for 119 yards overall. He went 4-of-6 for 74 yards and a touchdown against Buffalo, but clearly struggled against Chicago's first-team pass rush behind a spotty offensive line. He has been outdone in the stat column by another 2012 mid-round pick -- backup Kick Cousins of Michigan State, selected in the fourth round, threw three touchdown passes against the Bears' backups last Saturday. Cousins has 45 attempts to Griffin's 14, leading many to wonder if the matchup against Luck will prompt Shanahan to finally let the kid loose.
Cosell agreed that more needs to be seen before any evaluation can be made. "Griffin played very well in his first preseason game, and in his second game, I thought there were times when he was a little fast. A little frenetic. His offensive line didn't play well, which played into that, but he definitely overreacted at times. And then, you'd see him make a great 16-yard throw to Santana Moss on third-and-3, where he sat on his back foot and drove the ball with great velocity. His ball comes out a little better than Luck's, but we knew that going in. The Shanahans know what they're doing, but I wish I had seen more snaps of Griffin through the first two games."
[Over/Under: Attempting to solve the Adrian Peterson puzzle]
The only two people who aren't preoccupied with the comparisons seem to be the quarterbacks themselves.
"I think you realize that's sort of the nature of the beast, nature of playing quarterback, nature of being drafted one-two at any position in any sport," Luck said a few days ago. "I don't speak for him, but I'm sure he feels the same way. It's not too hard not to get too caught up in it. I have much bigger things to worry about."
As does Griffin. "We're not holding conversations about this defense and that defense," he said of his friendship with Luck. "But we text back and forth. Since we've been drafted, we haven't talked very much. But that's because we've both just been busy."
They should each be very busy, and more so on Saturday.
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