By George Bremer The Herald Bulletin
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck recently ran through a checklist of areas in which the Indianapolis Colts’ offense can improve in 2014.
Situational football — red-zone, third-down and two-minute offense — all areas in which the Colts finished at or near the middle of the NFL last season. And, of course, the third-year quarterback places the responsibility for improving those numbers on his own shoulders.
Even if there’s no single number he can point to by which to gauge his progress.
“I don’t know that you can take one stat and use that as the measurement for consistency,” Luck said Tuesday as Indianapolis opened a mandatory three-day minicamp at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. “I do think efficiency, I’m sure there’s a bunch of numbers that go into that, among other things. But, yeah, I think efficiency will be a big name of the game.”
If it all seems a bit intangible, well, it is.
Of all the weapons the 6-foot-4, 240-pound quarterback can attack a defense with, his mind just might be the most dangerous.
A Stanford graduate, Luck is expected to become an extension of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton at the line of scrimmage.
If he sees a certain look from the defense, he’ll stick with the call he made in the huddle. If he gets another look, he might have an automatic audible in his back pocket. A third look could require a brief recall of the week’s gameplan meetings and a quick evaluation of how Hamilton would prefer to attack the scheme.
There could be as many as 10 different scenarios available before every snap.
“We put more on Andrew here at the line of scrimmage than I’ve ever seen an NFL quarterback have to handle, and he’s handled it remarkably well,”
said Matt Hasselbeck, the Colts’ backup quarterback who started Super Bowl XL for the Seattle Seahawks and is entering his 16th season in the league.
“He and Pep are seemingly always on the same page, and that’s probably the most important thing. He’s Pep on the field in socks.”
The better that connection is, the more efficient the Indianapolis offense works. The more efficient the offense is, the better it plays situational football. And the better the Colts play situational football, the more points they score.
It’s a simple enough equation, but it’s the result of an almost invisible game of chess within each football game.
Luck’s ability to memorize the game plan, read the defense and react quickly and correctly is such a complex skill even some of his own teammates might not fully appreciate it.
“I don’t think the team even sees it,” Hasselbeck said. “I don’t know if our teammates fully grasp, I know they respect, but I don’t know if they fully grasp how much work and preparation goes into that. I know our coaches understand it because ultimately the plan’s coming from them, but it’s just a lot of monotonous studying. Not only studying what’s going to happen but also studying what’s not going to happen.”
Luck has to be prepared for any eventuality, and he’d be the first to admit he’s still got room to improve.
Fortunately, it’s one of the skills that can be extensively sharpened during the type of non-contact practices that populate the offseason schedule.
“Our defense is doing a tremendous job going into Year 3,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said. “Everybody feels, even though we’ve added a piece here or there, feels very comfortable with the system now. They’re throwing everything but the kitchen sink at our offense right now.
“So we’re still missing some things at the line of scrimmage. He does a phenomenal job, has done a phenomenal job, but we’ve still got some things to clean up in that area as far as re-IDing and getting the line going the right way and getting everybody on the same page. Again, if you asked him, he’d probably sit here for 20 minutes and list a laundry list of things for you.”
Hasselbeck summarizes the job description in far less time.
“As a quarterback,” he said, “you just gotta find ways to simplify it in your mind so you can play fast.”
Hamilton saw signs of that late last season, as Indianapolis’ offense finally recovered from the loss of wide receiver Reggie Wayne. The Colts scored 45 points to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card playoff game and moved the ball well at times against the New England Patriots a week later.
Luck’s four interceptions played a big role in the divisional playoff loss, and that’s another area upon which he intends to improve.
Meanwhile, the quarterback’s mind continues to open up a world of possibilities.
“He’s on schedule,” Hamilton said. “He’s ahead of schedule, as a matter of fact. Just like the rest of the guys on our offensive unit, there are some things that he improved on over the course of last season and that we’re working on this offseason.”