INDIANAPOLIS – Today will provide a sense of déjà vu for Colts Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians.
He will step on the practice field at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center and have a true sense of 1998.
Arians was the Colts’ quarterbacks coach that year. He had a new general manager in Bill Polian, a new head coach in Jim Mora, the person serving in the capacity he now holds was Tom Moore and he had a rookie quarterback taken with the draft’s first overall pick in Peyton Manning.
Arians has three of those components again in Ryan Grigson, Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck, respectively. Fourteen years will seem like a moment ago.
“Totally, especially with the whole situation of (a new) general manager, head coach and quarterback,” said Arians. “It is scary at times to think how close it was to 1998.”
Arians performed a labor of love back then that he once described as the best three years he had in the business, working under Moore and watching Manning grow.
Arians grew as well, helping Manning achieve success in his first season. Arians left Indianapolis in 2001 to be the offensive coordinator at Cleveland, a role he would hold later in Pittsburgh during a distinguished eight-year Steelers career that included three Super Bowl appearances and two titles.
Today, Arians will get his first work on site with Luck, the first pick in last week’s draft. He will use his talents once again to nurture a young quarterback. Arians knows what it takes.
“I think you have to keep the game simple. Let them play in Technicolor,” said Arians. “Quarterbacks have to see a picture when they call a play, and you keep it as simple as possible for them. The ones like (Andrew Luck), Peyton (Manning), Ben (Roethlisberger) and those guys, they are like piranhas. They eat information and gobble it up, and then you let them run with it.”
Moore is beloved by Colts fans for his wondrous body of work in Indianapolis, and he is respected universally in the football world for his offensive acumen. As it relates to Luck, Moore knows the Colts are wise to pitch the keys of the offense to his former quarterbacks coach.
“Bruce will do a great job with him. Bruce was the ideal hire,” said Moore. “He has been around the game a long time. Bruce will very quickly evaluate Andrew’s strengths and make sure the organization is playing to his strengths so he has success.”
After working with Manning, Arians had the same opportunity in Cleveland with quarterback Tim Couch, but injuries interrupted the process. Arians later played a role in the development of Ben Roethlisberger and other young players in Pittsburgh. The chance Arians has had to work with a number of players starting a career does not escape Grigson’s notice.
“I’ve told him, ‘Someone up there likes you,’ ” said Grigson. “Bruce has been pretty fortunate with some of the quarterbacks and receivers he has worked with in this league. I know he’s chomping at the bit to get going again.”
Grigson shares the same opinion as Moore that Arians is the right person to work with Luck on day one.
“I think so because Bruce is very demanding. He is a fantastic coach,” said Grigson. “It takes two minutes into practice for you to see Bruce is extremely confident in what he’s doing. He’s confident in himself. The way Bruce talks to players is a direct way, but he also can do it in a way where he’s not shoving it down a player’s throat. He has a way of getting his point across in a very coachable way where guys can absorb it, but they also know he means business. … I don’t think Andrew could be in better hands.”
Arians wants his quarterbacks to have a hand-in-glove fit with an offense. He wants them to have a complete knowledge of what they are doing. To that end, he allows terminology to be created.
“They (quarterbacks) make it work, because they understand it. I let them name most of their stuff, because that word association to them means something,” said Arians. “Rather than me call a play and name it and they’re like, ‘Why do you call it that?’ Well, you call it, and you name it. That picture will pop up in their head when they call the play, and they can worry about beating a defense and not, ‘Where is Reggie (Wayne) on this play? Where is Austin (Collie) on this play?’ (I’m) trying to keep it simple for them and just let them play and let their natural talent go out there.”
Arians and Luck have communicated through the draft process and over the past week. Their relationship has started, and today marks the first on-field connection they have in the city where each hopes is a bright future.
Arians has a gifted pupil who fashioned a storied collegiate career. Now, Luck is in post-graduate study, and he is facing a pitcher in Arians who will hit him with the works. It will be a nurturing process that will not be easy, just as it has not been with veterans who have faced this over the past month.
“You just throw the whole offense at him and see what sticks, and then throw it at him again and see what sticks that week,” said Arians. “You just keep throwing it at him until they’ve got it all. Day one he is going to walk in, he’s going to be in the first group, and he’s going to have an entire playbook that these guys have had for five or six weeks. I don’t have any doubt that he’s going to be caught up.”
The loquacious Arians is famously quick-witted. It is part of his charm. Sometimes his wit is succinct, as it is in voicing confidence that Luck is ready for first-team duty today.
“Ain’t no doubt,” said Arians.