INDIANAPOLIS – Bruce Arians was a willing student when he was a quarterback at Virginia Tech.
Arians first saw a passing attack in 1972 behind Don Strock where the future long-time pro quarterback tossed 427 passes. By the time Arians was at the controls in 1974, the offense was more ground-oriented.
He attempted 118 passes, but the offense provided chances to go down the field as well. Seeing chances to make big plays in both attacks served him well when he started coaching a year later.
“I think when I was a wishbone quarterback (was when I got my aggressiveness),” said Arians. “I played for two different systems in college, and we dropped back 40 or 50 times with Don Strock. I backed up Don. Then I got introduced to the veer and the wishbone. That was all hard play-action and throw the ball deep down the field and it was so easy.”
The veer and wishbone were popular offenses in those days, and quarterbacks and receivers still had prominent chances to strike because of how defenses were forced to adjust to the run threat.
As Arians moved through the college and pro ranks, a background in both helped him shape careers and build a personal resume.
“I think that’s carried throughout my whole career of wide zone, play-action pass, throwback. Peyton (Manning) was extremely successful with it. A lot of it started back then,” said Arians. “Everybody’s always run naked bootlegs. We started firing it further down the field, and it’s just growing.”
A four-year stint with Kansas City running backs preceded a one-year hitch with New Orleans tight ends, and Arians then found himself with a budding Indianapolis offense from 1998-2000.
As Manning’s position coach, Arians saw his pupil grow from 3,739 to 4,135 to 4,413 passing yards, while he averaged 7.8 and 7.7 yards per attempt and 12.5 and 12.4 yards per completion from 1999-2000.
Three years in Cleveland were short-circuited by injuries to promising talent Tim Couch. Arians was in Pittsburgh for the arrival of Ben Roethlisberger, where during Arians’ 2007-11 tenure as coordinator he annually struck big with numbers and victories.
Luck has thrown for 3,205 yards, the most by a rookie through 11 games in history, and he has hit 255-of-449 passes for 13 touchdowns, a year that eventually should stand as one the best in league rookie and club overall annals.
Arians and Luck are not reticent to attack. The point is not throwing at all costs, but to keep a two-dimensional latitude to spur success.
Indianapolis has remained relatively grounded during the season. A four-game winning streak to move from 2-3 to 6-3 found the team producing its three highest rushing totals.
A season-high 171 rushing yards at Tennessee found the team with four completions exceeding 20 yards and a season-best three ground gains of 15-plus yards.
Among 37 rushes in a 17-point win at Jacksonville, Luck himself tallied twice and struck four more completions for large yardage (20-plus yards).
For the year, Indianapolis has hit at least four large completions in nine different outings, with eight against Miami and seven at Chicago being the top games.
Indianapolis has 47 completions exceeding 20 yards, 36 going to wide receivers, nine to tight ends and two to backs.
Arians wants Luck to play smartly, not scared, but ball protection is a must. Still, Arians has been weaned to look downfield. Now is no time to stop.
“I love to take shots down the field, especially if you can run the ball well enough to get eight in the box, you know you have single coverage,” said Arians. “I have six home runs on the (play) card (each week), and I don’t like to come home with any of them left over.
“I play golf the same way, no risk it, no biscuit. I’m never going to lay up. I hit a lot of balls in the water. I guess that’s just who I am and who I always have been. We play to win, all out. I try to live every day that way.”