INDIANAPOLIS – Five times since the common draft was instituted in 1967 quarterbacks have been taken as the top two picks in the process.
Rarely, however, have those quarterbacks met in preseason action as rookies. The last time it happened was in 1999 when Tim Couch (Cleveland) and Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia) met as their teams battled in the final week of play.
Saturday is the latest installment of the storyline as
Luck and Griffin will not battle head-to-head. Each will be concerned with opposing 3-4 defenses possessing intent to snuff out offensive heroics. The draft’s top two players, however, hope to produce results that followed them from college.
Luck directed Stanford to an 11-2 record in 2011 and a second straight BCS Bowl appearance. For his career, he completed 713-of-1,064 passes for 9,430 yards, with 82 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, setting numerous school marks while producing a 31-7 starting record. With Luck at the controls, Stanford spent 29 consecutive weeks in the AP poll, including 22 straight ranked in the Top 10. The Cardinal had seven consecutive losing seasons prior to Luck starting in 2009. The school then posted 8-5, 12-1 and 11-2 records.
Last year, Griffin won the Heisman Trophy and the Davey O’Brien and Manning Awards to become the only Baylor athlete to do so. For his career, Griffin set or tied 54 school records in starting 40 of 41 games in three seasons. He hit 800-of-1,192 passes for 10,366 yards, with 78 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, while rushing 528 times for 2,254 yards and 33 scores. He is one of three FBS players with 10,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards.
As for the inevitable questions of being linked with Griffin, Luck expects to avoid the hype.
“Hopefully, none (laughs). We’ll see,” said Luck of how much he expects to be caught up in the whirl. “(I’ll) just realize that it’s not what the game is about. The game is about much more than either team’s quarterback. I think we both know that very well, so it’s not too hard to stay clear of it.”
Luck has hit 26-of-41 preseason passes for 363 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions, while rushing for another score. He has led the Colts to five touchdowns and a field goal on six possessions. Griffin has hit nine-of-14 passes for 119 yards, with one touchdown, while rushing for 17 yards on four attempts.
Luck and Griffin were together at an awards ceremony, the Combine and the draft but beyond that, Luck says the two have had little interaction. He is cognizant of the intrigue of the pairing of top picks and the near uniqueness of it being at quarterback, but Luck thinks the attention just goes with the turf in the sporting world.
“You realize that’s sort of the nature of the beast, the nature of playing quarterback, the nature of being drafted 1-2 at any position in any sport,” said Luck. “I don’t speak for him but I’m sure he feels the same way, it’s not too hard not to get caught up in it. We have much bigger things to worry about. I believe football is the biggest team game there is.”
The last time this storyline applied to the Colts was in 1998, when Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf shared the RCA Dome playing field when San Diego visited in week three of the preseason. The Chargers triumphed in that game, 33-3. San Diego returned to Indianapolis six weeks later, and the Colts prevailed, 17-12.
There were attempts to hype the matter on both occasions then, but to no real success. The careers of the two quarterbacks went on without any significance of having met on the same field as rookies.
Head Coach Chuck Pagano, like Luck, is more focused on his club than the side story.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot made out of that,” said Pagano. “Like I always say, ‘The enemy is always in our own camp.’ It has nothing to do with who you’re playing. We’ve got to take care of the things that we can take care of, control the things that we can control and go out there and have a great (practices) and get ourselves ready to take the next step.”
Pagano says there has been no need to address the matter of the hyped matchup with his team.
“No, not at all. We said from day one when we got here, ‘We’re worried about the Colts.’ We’re not worried about anything else,” said Pagano. “Let’s worry about the things we can control. Everything else will take care of itself.”
Pagano praised Luck for the focus he has on improving his game and helping his team, while not getting bogged down in sideshows.
“He doesn’t let a lot of the outside distractions, whatever they may be, affect him, affect his preparation, the way he gets ready for a game, what he does in meetings and so forth,” said Pagano. “He’s just a really mature kid and knows how to handle those things.”
Last week in Pittsburgh Luck showed his composure in leading the Colts from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit to a 17-14 halftime lead. Overcoming an interception for a score, Luck battled back.
After his first interception, Luck was 14-of-17 for 159 yards. After the second miscue, he hit eight-of-nine attempts for 96 yards. Luck hit his last eight first-down attempts and was 10-of-12 in the half for 120 yards on first downs. Guard
“It showed how good he is, and the type of competitor he is,” said Reitz. “He got better as the game went on. He’s a great quarterback and a great leader. He’s the field general out there, and we’re all falling in line with what he says and what he does. We just have to make sure we keep him protected, because he can carve up some defenses when he gets going.”
Some strengths of Luck’s are poise, the ability to process information and being able to remain calm.
“He just has a great demeanor about him. It’s the confidence he has,” said Reitz. “He doesn’t get rattled. He was the same in the huddle when we were down 14-0 as he was when we started the game. He has a great even keel about him. At the same time, he’s very confident in what he can do. It’s great to see him develop, and he’s only going to get better and better.”
In getting back to a game the team has approached in regular season fashion, as teams do across the league in week three of the preseason, Pagano knows Griffin will present a good challenge for the new defensive scheme being implemented.
“It will be a great test for us. (He is a) great athlete, great athleticism, can throw it, can beat you with his legs, can extend plays. They have great skill all around him. They have great runners. They have great speed at the wide outs. It will be a great test across the board for us.”