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ANDERSON – Andrew Luck completed a walk-through practice and nearly three minutes of media interviews before Peyton Manning's name came up.
Like everything else about Luck's entry into the NFL, he was prepared.
“I try not to think too much about predecessors, what the team was like last year, what I have to live up to,” Luck said Sunday. “I think I have fairly high expectations for myself.”
Luck acknowledged his own use of clichés as he talked about keeping his head down and working hard, and he also mentioned he has used his take on the Manning shadow before:
“If I woke up every morning trying to compare myself to Peyton, I'd go crazy,” Luck said. “It helps me sleep at night.”
It's as inevitable as it is unfair that Luck will be compared to Manning throughout not only his rookie season, but also his career. Media and fans always love to stack players up against each other. Nowhere will it be more relevant and yet irrelevant than in the Colts' camp, which opened Sunday at Anderson University.
They might as well call this the Andrew Luck Colts Camp, featuring a supporting cast of some 90 other players.
Luck will be graded at every step to see how he measures up, probably too many times using unreasonable comparisons. Just as he embraced the rookie orientation of singing in front of the team – his rendition of “Country Roads” was widely panned; coach Chuck Pagano called it “awful” – Luck willingly takes everything on headfirst.
“I'll give him credit, he was the first rookie to get up and do it,” Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers said of Luck's singing debut and finale.
On a more important note, pun intended, Luck finished his first official practice on Sunday afternoon to rave reviews. He unofficially completed 27 of 32 passes in 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills, with two interceptions.
Pagano labeled Luck's first practice “excellent.” Former Colts coach Tony Dungy, watching his first practice since he retired as Colts coach, agreed and said he could see what everyone likes about Luck.
“Watching him, you can see the decision-making and command of the huddle and command of the field,” Dungy said. “They're going to be in good hands for a long time.”
Luck approached this camp exactly the way Colts coaches wanted. He studied as much as he could before camp started, if not as “fastidious” as he thought he should have, to use his Stanford education word of the day. He went to Miami and worked out with Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery. He studied film.
He's embracing the challenge that comes with playing for Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
“It's been great, he's incredibly sharp,” Luck said. “He's always going to have something for you. You have to stay on your toes in meetings. You can't take 30 minutes off in meetings. He'll put something out there and you better know it.”
Of course, it's natural that we'll compare Luck with Manning. There's simply no way, despite last year's mix of Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky, to shake the image of Manning as the Colts quarterback. We've successfully wiped out the image of Collins, Painter and Orlovsky. That happened about five minutes after the season ended. Manning remains ingrained in our minds, and will be forever.
So the question becomes how quickly Luck can look like the right man for the Colts quarterback job now. He's not Manning. He shouldn't have to be.
The coaches feel it's imperative that Luck take as many snaps, without wearing out his arm, as possible during training camp. Luck says bring it on, which is exactly the right attitude.
“We're building continuity,” Luck said. “It's important for the offensive line to be comfortable with the snap count, for the receivers to be comfortable with motion and timing. You get that by practicing together. It'll be paramount this camp.”
Avery, one of the new, older Colts looking to establish his spot on the team, mentioned the intellectual aspect of Luck's makeup. Luck is cerebral, Avery said, and he understands why the need to have him on the field as much as possible this preseason is essential.
“Every time Andrew Luck is in, he wants the first team in,” Avery said. “The receivers, the O-linemen, that's who's going to be on the field. We're building chemistry on the field. We worked out some of the kinks this summer, so we can come out and just rip them now.”
The measuring and analysis of Luck has only just begun. There will be landmark moments – his first preseason game, his first regular-season game, his first touchdown pass, etc. – along the way.
There's nothing wrong with monitoring Luck's progress. But he doesn't have to be as good as Manning from Day One. Then again, maybe he was, for Day One.