After 41 completions in 66 attempts for 522 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in his first NFL preseason, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is ready for perhaps the most anticipated rookie season since Peyton Manning first went under center for this same Colts franchise in 1998. Luck knows that he has a tough act to follow, but he's also about as pro-ready as any young quarterback we've seen in a long time. We spoke with Luck as he was preparing for the Chicago Bears this Sunday.
As Luck told us, he's enjoyed running around and playing outside since he was a kid, and that's why he also wanted to talk about the initiative he has going with Quaker Oats and the NFL's PLAY 60 campaign, in which you can win a free trip to Super Bowl XLVII. You can find out more here.
As for Luck, here's what he had to tell us.
Shutdown Corner: Everyone has asked you this, I'm sure — the whole thing about defenses being faster in the NFL. But now that you've faced NFL defenses, how specifically are they faster, and what challenges have you faced in your first preseason from that perspective?
Andrew Luck: Besides the obvious — bigger, faster, stronger at all positions on the field, the linebackers are noticeably faster. Your tight end is not going to run right by a linebacker — that flat-out speed. In college, the guys we had could do that. That's been the biggest difference.
SC: There's a lot of Cover 3, straight quarters and more standard coverage schemes with the defenses you played against in college. Cal runs a 3-4 of sorts and you would see different things, but how much more advanced are the defensive concepts when you hit the NFL? Certainly when you faced the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dick Lebeau's defenses, that must have been a different experience.
AL: I was lucky enough at Stanford to have Vic Fangio as the defensive coordinator for a year, and then Jason Tarver. [Fangio is currently the San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator and Tarver now does the same for the Oakland Raiders.] They ran sort of a 3-4 scheme with a lot of different personnel groupings and different blitzes, so I went up against that type of structure. That's obviously not a substitute for a Pittsburgh Steelers defense by any means, but it did prepare me in that sense to go from a 4-3 one week to a 3-4 the next. Back and forth, you know what I mean? So that was good, and going up against our [the Colts'] defense and what coach [defensive coordinator Greg] Manusky and [head] coach [Chuck] Pagano do with defenses has been great as well.
SC: So, Fangio ran hybrid fronts at Stanford, and the Colts are transitioning to a hybrid idea after years in that more conventional Cover/Tampa 2. How much of what you see in practice now did you see in practice at Stanford?
AL: A little bit. This is the NFL, and there are better players and everyone's more on the screws with things. There are much more complicated blitzes and coverages, but there's a decent baseline understanding of defense from the Stanford days.
SC: Everyone made a big deal about the 63-yard pass to Donald Brown; the touchdown you had to open your NFL career ...
AL: It was a 3-yard pass [laughs].
SC: I know. And I was gonna say that's a nice way to start your NFL career, but it was the 23-yard touchdown pass to Austin Collie that really impressed me. Not only did you put perfect touch on the ball, but you looked off the Rams defender to make way. People always talk about your command of the little things, and having a father that played in the NFL certainly helps, but how did you acquire that over time?
AL: I've been lucky enough to be around some great coaches, all the way from Pop Warner to now. In high school, I had a great offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach named Jeff Green, who, funny enough, was a graduate assistant for [current Colts offensive coordinator] Bruce Arians way back when. So, it's a small world. And then, with Coach [Jim] Harbaugh and Coach [David} Shaw at Stanford, and BA and Clyde [Christensen] here, I've been fortunate to have coaches that know football and care about me, and I bought into what they teach.
SC: I talked with [Stanford guard] David DeCastro at the scouting combine, and he said that when he watched the 49ers in 2011, he knew what plays were coming before the ball was snapped because he had an easy familiarity with an offense that would work at the next level. How was it to have a relationship as you did with a coach in Jim Harbaugh who helped you become so NFL-ready?
AL: It was great, especially to have a coach who was an NFL quarterback. To go through a lot of similar situations was good. He was great with on-field stuff, but also educating me on the media, how to answer questions, and why it's important to build relationships with people in terms of leadership — how you don't have to change your personality to be a leader. I thought we had a great relationship.
SC: You had a lot of reps in the preseason, while Robert Griffin III, the man with whom you'll be connected for all time, really didn't. Not asking you to criticize that approach, but how specifically did having that extra time in games help you? What did you learn that you did not know?
AL: It was just nice to be in the pocket with live bullets; you know, the defensive line and linebackers actually trying to tackle you as opposed to practice. You can't help it. You get a little comfortable and content in practice, thinking, "Oh, he wouldn't have tackled me." Drew Stanton, our other quarterback, said, "No, that's Dwight Freeney — he would have tackled you!"
So, to get back in the pocket and feel that — how to handle pressure — was something that I appreciated. Getting those pass plays called and getting those reps. I don't want to say "practice reps," but it was a great learning experience, and I'm glad the won-loss column doesn't count in the preseason.
SC: Let's talk about Arians, to whom you are oddly connected from your high school days. He is known for a lot of trips, heavy bunch, two and three tight ends on the field, and you ran a lot of heavy TE stuff at Stanford. How easy was it for you to slip into what he wanted to do and feel comfortable in the offensive system?
AL: First, he's a great coach, Super Bowl rings and all that stuff. He's very sharp and he really knows how to attack defenses. And there are a lot of similarities to what we did at Stanford, with the tight ends and having a power running game. That said, it's all different terminology. Where coach Harbaugh and Coach Shaw have a lot of the Bill Walsh influence with the West Coast offense stuff, and the Bo Schembechler influence from [Harbaugh's days at] Michigan. BA doesn't come from that family of coaching verbiage, if you will. So it's learning the new lingo. That was a little difficult, but it was a lot of fun as well, and it really opened my eyes to a lot more football.
SC: When you go in as a rookie, high draft pick or not, how do you establish yourself as a leader of men who have played in the NFL for 10 years or more?
AL: That's a great question, and I wish I knew the answer [laughs]. I realize that I haven't done anything yet, and I hope that I can be productive sooner than later. But until then, I lean on Reggie Wayne and Samson Satele and Donald Brown and Winston Justice and Austin Collie as the leaders of the offense. I realize that as the quarterback, you have to assume some sort of leadership role because you have to talk in the huddle on every play, and you're essentially giving out orders to the team. But in my mind, I have to prove myself on the field before I can start asserting a leadership role.
SC: Finally, please talk a bit about what you're doing with Quaker Oats and the NFL's PLAY 60 campaign.
AL: Right. I'm teaming up with Quaker and PLAY 60 to encourage kids to eat right, stay active and do something outside for at least 60 minutes a day. [Kids] can enter online for a chance to go to the Super Bowl -- a free trip with their parents or guardians. And that's something -- with the position I'm in, if I can be a positive influence on someone or partner with something I'm passionate about, I always enjoyed playing outside as a kid, so if I can encourage other kids to do that, it would be great.