Entrusted with one of the most important jobs in the National Football League, Bruce Arians has experience to lean on.
Having been with Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger as rookies and also having coached Tim Couch when Couch was still developing in his third year, Arians is uniquely qualified to develop Andrew Luck. And the offensive coordinator of the Colts said without a doubt it has been a benefit.
“Having been down this road three, four times, its déjà vu,” Arians said.
Bruce Arians has had success with young QBs in the past.
Perhaps the biggest question in the development of a rookie quarterback is how much is too much too soon? Arians told me he made the decision to give Luck 70 percent of the playbook the first day he showed up for rookie camp. He gave him the remaining 30 percent the next day.
But Arians didn’t take that approach without reservation. “In Cleveland we tried to go too fast,” Arians said. “Kelly Holcomb knew the offense. Timmy Couch was learning it.”
But Luck is different from Couch. He is different from anyone, with the possible exception of Manning. “This one we can go fast because he can handle it,” Arians said. “Peyton was similar, like a piranha eating information. He would come in with question after question, 7:00 in the morning.”
Like Manning, Luck is a devoted student of the game, and he has an aptitude for the position that is rare. “He has his notebooks going constantly,” Arians said. “He is a very bright individual and the game comes easy to him. It makes sense to him. Some guys learn assignments. The real good quarterbacks understand concepts. So you can change formations in all different ways and personnel but it’s still the same concept and read. He understands concepts.”
So Arians has not had to take his foot off the pedal with Luck, despite the fact that Luck missed OTAs because Stanford had not yet graduated. Arians figured Luck was two to three weeks behind where he could have been when training camp opened, but Luck quickly made up that ground and more.
Luck has taken every first team rep, and made the most of the heavy workload. Arians said when the season starts, he won’t have to scale back any of his game plans on account of Luck. He might have to scale back for others, however.
“He can handle the entire playbook and no huddle, everything,” Arians said. “We’ve been taking baby steps with the no huddle part of it because of the rest of the guys. I have to watch myself. I fall into this trap with a smart quarterback, go head over heels, putting stuff in. The rest of the coaches say, ‘Hey coach, my guys can’t learn that. You have to slow down man.’ We can’t judge it off him because his learning curve is so fast. I have to judge it off the tight ends and receivers and running backs so we don’t get the quarterback killed.”
Arians is a coach Luck will believe and follow, in part because he knows Arians has done this before.
“His wealth of experience is definitely helping,” Luck told me. “I’m sure he has thought of situations from the past and has used them to my advantage. You never are bored with B.A. He has an incredibly sharp mind and keeps you on your toes. He throws so much at you. He has a great knack for sensing once a guy has figured out what has been thrown at him, he is going to add more, and more. He’s going to continually challenge you.”
New Colts head coach Chuck Pagano stressed to his players that Arians is implementing an offense that won two Super Bowls. He knows what Pagano can do in part because they worked together on Butch Davis’ staff in Cleveland.
“We have an offensive coordinator who tutored Manning,” Pagano said. “Getting him was our gain, Pittsburgh’s loss. I know how hard he works. I know what a brilliant mind he has, what a great play caller he is.”
Of course Arians is fortunate to have Luck to work with. But I suspect we’ll soon see that Luck is fortunate to be working for Arians, too.
My Sunday Best: Olympians Turned NFL Stars
If Jeff Demps becomes more than a serviceable NFL running back in New England or elsewhere, he will join an elite group: athletes who went from the Olympics to NFL stardom. There are many who went from the Olympics to the NFL but never excelled. Here are my Sunday best former Olympians. Any you’d like to see added to the list?
Jim Thorpe was in the charter class in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
1. Jim Thorpe. He won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon in 1929 in Sweden. He was in the charter class in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The halfback played for six NFL teams, and also was quite a kicker. He also played six seasons of major league baseball.
2. Ollie Matson. After winning a bronze medal in the 400-meters and a silver as part of the 400-meter relay team in 1952 in Helsinki, Matson embarked on a hall of fame football career. He was thought of as so valuable that the Rams gave the Chicago Cardinals nine players for his rights. Matson played in six Pro Bowls.
3. Bob Hayes. He was called “the world’s fastest human” after winning a pair of gold medals (100 meters and 100 meter relay) in Tokyo in 1964. Football opponents couldn’t keep up with “Bullet Bob,” who scored 71 career touchdowns and averaged 20 yards per catch. He is the only man to win a gold medal and a Super Bowl ring. He added a yellow jacket to his collection of awards when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
4. Herschel Walker. His Olympic moment was not conventional—Walker participated in the bobsled seven years into his NFL career. He is remembered most for being the centerpiece in the Herschel Walker trade that set up Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys for a string of Super Bowls. But if you combine his USFL yards and NFL yards, he would be the fifth all-time leading rusher in history. He also was an excellent receiver out of the backfield and a fine kicker returner. Walker played in two Pro Bowls.
5. Michael Bates. He was a five time Pro Bowler as a kick returner for six teams, and a bronze medal winner in the 200 meters in Barcelona in 1992. He scored five kick return TDs in his career and averaged 30.2 yards per return in 1996. He was voted to the 1990s all decade team.
6. Michael Carter. He was a silver medal winner in the shot put at the 1984 games in L.A but was less heralded as a football player prior to his NFL career. The 49ers took a chance on him in the fifth round, and as a nose tackle he played on three Super Bowl winners and made it to three Pro Bowls.
7. James Jett. He was part of the gold medal winning 100 meter relay team in Barcelona in 1992, and then played a decade for the Raiders. He finished his career with more than 4,000 receiving yards and a 17.3 yard average per catch.
8. Ron Brown. As a receiver for the Rams and Raiders, Brown averaged 18.3 yards per catch over seven years. He previously was part of the gold winning 100 meter relay team in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
One Man Yelp: Sapp Attack
Tact never was a strong suit of Warren Sapp’s. So it figures that he didn’t pull any punches in his book Sapp Attack. He offers his version on his failed drug tests and his arrest on domestic abuse charges. But mostly, Sapp criticizes.
Among the people he trashes: former Bucs coach Sam Wyche (“Tony Dungy put the damn cake in the oven, and then Jon Gruden came in and put the icing on it. Of course, Sam Wyche couldn’t even get the mix out of the box.”), Monte Kiffen (He wrote he believed Kiffen called the blitz frequently “because he wanted the glory; it made him look like a great defensive coordinator.”), Lane Kiffen (Sapp writes he was arrogant and didn’t understand professional football), Keyshawn Johnson (Sapp portrays him as a selfish, egomanical player who did not pay attention to details), Mike Sherman (Sapp said Sherman is lucky he didn’t get beaten up in the confrontation after Sapp knocked Chad Clifton out of a game), and many others.
There is a lot of hot air here, and you have to really be a Sapp fan to withstand it all. Sapp can be difficult to listen to, but he is entertaining.
Sapp is a difficult man to get along with. I wouldn’t have wanted to have the job of his co-author, David Fisher. But Fisher managed to pull together Sapp’s thoughts in a breezy, interesting read.
*No surprise to see Shawne Merriman out of football. He was a player who needed to believe he was invincible in order to be his best, and he probably no longer could believe it. In a 2006 interview in the film room at Merriman’s home in San Diego, this is what he told me. “I take pride in trying to be the best, in being dominant, and my work ethic. I talk a lot of stuff to my teammates and coaches that I almost have to take the extra step to live up to it. You can’t go around this league talking and not go out and do it… I can’t envision somebody beating me one on one. I have so much pride that I can’t. It’s going to happen. Everybody in the league has been beaten, no matter who you are, whether it’s in a race, or somebody is a step quicker than you, or stronger than you. But in my head I can’t envision losing a battle. I take that very seriously. I don’t plan on it happening.”
*Giants punter Steve Weatherford must know what members of the media often feel like. Tom Coughlin shot the messenger, when the dude who did the dunking should have taken the bullet.
*The list of senior finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame was strong, but Curly Culp and Dave Robinson are without a doubt two deserving nominees. They should be hall of famers in February.
*The NFLPA, and maybe the NFL, should concern themselves with what is best for the game rather than looking at every proposal as a bargaining chip. Squabbling over changes to the trade deadline and injured reserve is bad form.
*If you appreciate a good, old fashioned football coach, read this about Gil Steinke.
*Finally, it’s good to be back in this space after a summer hiatus. You may notice the Sunday Blitz is a little different. Some of the information that we previously brought you on Sundays now will be spread out throughout the week, so check back at nationalfootballpost.com frequently for more.
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune at chicagotribune.com. Follow him at Twitter@danpompei