Few were surprised when Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck showed up for his first NFL training camp looking like a veteran already -- after all, when you've been touted by everyone in the world as the most pro-ready quarterback out of college since Peyton Manning, anything less than hitting the ground running would be a serious disappointment. Just as he did at Stanford, Luck took all the hype and ate it for breakfast, and went on to do his job in the most efficient way possible.
As a performer away from the field, though, things did not go as well. It's a league tradition that rookies are supposed to get up and sing their school fight songs, or belt out something else if they don't know the words to the inspirational tunes tied to their alma maters. Luck didn't sing whatever Stanford's fight song is; he was persuaded to belt out "Country Roads" by John Denver. Depending on whose account you believe, he was either booed off whatever makeshift stage he was standing on, or he flat-out cleared the room.
Don't quit your day job, kid.
"I was booed off the stage," Luck said after Sunday's practice. "I did pick the song -- it's the only one I know how to sing."
Luck did get a beat going from his new teammates, but to no avail. "I asked for a little help before I went up, [and then] the boo-birds started coming out."
Luck, for all the expectations surrounding his name, and for the way he could try and "big-time" people if he so chose, seemed willing to take part in more rookie orientations down the road.
"Well, you have to," Luck said with a laugh. "What else are you going to do? It's all good fun."
More importantly, during the team's first official practice on Sunday, Luck looked every bit the legitimate first-overall pick he was. According to Mike Chappell of IndyStar.com, Luck completed 27 of 32 passes in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, with just one dropped pass. He spread the ball around, too -- fellow Stanford rookie teammate Coby Fleener, the tight end who should be a pretty decent second-level fantasy pickup this season, caught just four passes. Austin Collie bagged seven, Donnie Avery got the same, Reggie Wayne got five, and Dwayne Allen, another rookie tight end, got four of his own.
"That's a credit to the offensive guys, the offensive coaches,'' new head coach Chuck Pagano said after practice. "You can see from today the offense stayed in their playbook [in the offseason]. The retention has been excellent and they came out here and moved the ball up and down the field pretty much at will.''
It's certainly a new day in Indianapolis, which makes sense after the formerly hyper-competitive franchise bottomed out at 2-14 in 2011. Peyton Manning is long gone, as are most vestiges of the Bill Polian/Tony Dungy era. New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will bring more complex schematic concepts from Pittsburgh, and Pagano will no doubt run the multiple fronts he learned in Baltimore. Three-wide and Cover-2 may be things of the past here, but Dungy, who was on hand for the Sunday practice, liked what he saw of the new kid.
"What impressed me the most was the decision-making and lack of indecisiveness," Dungy said. "He looked like a third- or fourth-year guy in his first practice. I've seen him play twice [in college] ... But to see it out there, and knowing he's had a condensed offseason program, it was very, very impressive. [The Colts] are going to be in good hands."
Dungy, who was a defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings before getting his first head coaching opportunity with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996, spoke with Pagano about that switch from running a team to overseeing everything. After a 6-10 mark in that first season, Dungy never again had a losing record as a head coach.
"It's probably about being resolute, more than anything else," Dungy said of moving into the head coaching role. "You think it's going to go well and you really believe in what you're doing. I thought that, too, and we started 1-8. Whether you start 1-8 or 8-1, you know what you want to get done. I sense that from [Pagano], that he has a plan and he's not going to deviate from it."
Pagano understands that he's more likely to start 1-8 than 8-1, but this is a "you-never-know" league -- the key is to establish your plan and stick to it through the rough spots.
"Like Tony always said going back since he started coaching for coach [Chuck] Noll [for the Pittsburgh Steelers], it's not the extraordinary things, it's the ordinary things," Pagano said. "It isn't so much the most talented team that wins, it's the team that buys into the plan and becomes a family and plays together."
They've got the quarterback thing worked out already, which many better teams still can't say. Pagano just needs to keep Luck's head in the playbook -- and his mouth away from the microphone.