While the Indianapolis Colts are banking on second-year quarterback Andrew Luck to help lead them back to the playoffs, the Oakland Raiders still won’t say who they’ll have under center to start the season.
Luck and the Colts look to open the season with a seventh consecutive home victory Sunday when they host a Raiders team desperately trying to record their first winning record in 11 years.
Coming off a 2-14 season and saddled with trying to replace Peyton Manning, Indianapolis handed the ball to No. 1 overall pick Luck - who promptly led the team to a historic turnaround in 2012.
Though he completed 54.1 percent of his passes and threw 18 interceptions compared to 23 touchdowns, Luck set NFL rookie records for yards passing (4,374), attempts (627), 300-yard games (six) and fourth-quarter comebacks (seven). More importantly for the Colts, they won nine more games and reached the playoffs.
That .563 single-season improvement in winning percentage is tied for third-best since 1980, and they hope the rise continues this season.
“There’s nobody in there that’s relaxing,” said coach Chuck Pagano, who missed most of last year while receiving treatment for leukemia. “I think everybody, because of the acquisitions, because of the free agents, because of the draft, those types of things, our roster is in a much better place than it was at any time last year.”
Luck was sacked 41 times in 2012, so Indianapolis added linemen Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas through free agency and drafted Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes.
With Bruce Arians now in Arizona, Luck’s college offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton took over and installed a power running game featuring Vick Ballard, former Giant Ahmad Bradshaw and more two tight-end sets.
The Colts have not produced a 1,000-yard rusher since Joseph Addai in 2007.
Veteran Reggie Wayne, who caught 106 passes for 1,355 yards in 2012, and second-year speedster T.Y. Hilton lead a receiving corps that hopes to get more out of underachieving former Raider Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Luck feels more relaxed despite playing for his second offensive coordinator in as many seasons.
“A little bit, just by virtue of having played in an NFL game before,” he said. “Knowing what pregame is like, knowing who runs out of the tunnel and where, things of that nature. Again, it’s still very exciting.”
Pagano knows he’s fortunate not to have to worry about the quarterback position heading into this season.
“We’re in an ideal situation. I know some aren’t,” he said.
Pagano need only look across the field Sunday at Raiders coach Dennis Allen, who has yet to announce whether career backup Matt Flynn or little-used Terrelle Pryor will start. Reports, though, indicate that Pryor will get the nod after Oakland’s offense scored 32 points on 14 drives with him at the helm and 10 on 13 with Flynn this preseason. Pryor did face mostly reserves.
Flynn appears healthy after missing a week with a sore elbow, but Pryor may give the Raiders a better chance to succeed because of his mobility. That could come in handy within an offense in which oft-injured running back Darren McFadden is the only proven playmaker.
Oakland averaged 13.0 points over a six-game stretch last season before Pryor started a 24-21 season-ending loss at San Diego.
“That’s my goal, to be a starting quarterback and to lead a team to wins,” said Pryor, who threw for 150 yards with two touchdowns and an interception while running for one score in his first career start that concluded Oakland’s 4-12 season.
“I won’t stop until it happens. Until it happens and keeps on happening, I’ll keep on pushing.”
He’s among 14 quarterbacks to start for the Raiders since the beginning of the 2004 season - tied with Cleveland and Miami for the most during that span.
Flynn could experience a case of deja vu after he lost a starting job that appeared to be his during preseason last year in Seattle, when he was beaten out by Russell Wilson.
The Raiders also need more from McFadden, who’s missed 13 games the last two seasons while running for 1,321 yards in that span. He rushed for 1,157 in 2010.
He was held to 45 yards on 11 carries the only time he faced the Colts, a 31-26 home loss in the most recent meeting Dec. 26, 2010.
The Raiders face an Indianapolis defense that added veterans Erik Walden, Greg Toler and LeRon Landry after ranking 26th overall with 374.2 yards per game and 29th against the run at 137.5.
Oakland brought back veteran defensive back Charles Woodson, along with former Saint Tracy Porter and ex-Chicago linebacker Nick Roach after allowing an average of 32.0 points during its last eight losses.