INDIANAPOLIS – Andrew Luck is wired differently.
Playing a finesse position like a ball-hawking safety, Luck isn't a quarterback who goes out of his way to avoid contact.
Instead, he's always been a guy known to embrace it.
Mike Sanford, a former Stanford assistant who is now the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, recalls what Luck wanted on the play call sheet early in a game.*
What should an offensive coordinator script for a quarterback early on a game? Andrew Luck had four keys, and one of them was to get hit…
"Andrew Luck, an unbelievable talent, in his fourth year, he truly could do anything you put up there," Sanford, Luck's running backs coach at Stanford in 2011, said earlier this year at the AFCA Convention. "Coach (David) Shaw would always ask Andrew, 'What do you want to put on the opener for this game?' He'd say, 'I want to get a completion play, I want a get-hit play' — he wants to get hit in the first three plays — and he wants a get-out-of-the-pocket play, and one more rhythm throw."
Protecting your quarterback is one of the biggest keys in football, but Luck needed to take a hit. It helped that Luck had a large frame and could physically take it.
"Especially in a big game, he wanted to feel that," Sanford said. "We're all built the same way. We need our quarterback to feel the game. He's a football player. He's the toughest player on the team."
A handful of years later and there's no questioning the toughness of Luck.
This past year, Luck played nearly an entire fourth quarter with a lacerated kidney, leading the Colts to a win over the Denver Broncos, the eventual Super Bowl Champions.
A win on that November afternoon was overshadowed by Luck's final snaps of the 2015 season.
The lacerated kidney would force Luck to be a spectator the rest of the season, watching the Colts drop three straight December games and eventually lose their grip atop the AFC South.
Through his first three NFL seasons, Luck hadn't missed one snap due to injury.
Such invincibility could no longer be taken for granted.
It was a fine line for Chuck Pagano knowing that the "out of script" plays from Luck had finally caught up to the 6-4, 240-pound quarterback.
"You don't want to take that (innateness) away from any of your players," Pagano says of Luck. "You don't want to coach them to be robots. In the classroom, on the chalkboard it happens one way and then game day, it happens differently. You never want to take that away from a football player. But I think there will be something, talk in (Luck's) head, things will change a little bit as far as that goes. But again, we want him to extend plays and use his athleticism and his creativity, all those types of things to make plays.
"It's that old deal, you are sitting there, 'Oh, no, no, no. Oh, great play.' I've done it once. I've done it a thousand times. It's the natural thing, the instinctive things that the good Lord has given him."
Missing nine games and watching his team sit at home in January should serve as quite the reminder to Luck of how important his presence is on the field.
Those rare traits of keeping plays alive help place him among the game's elite. But this upcoming offseason program will be about knowing when to live to see another play.
"It's in (Luck's) DNA. It's how he plays the game," Pagano says, "but at the same point, there's a time and a place where the play is over, know when to say when, throw it away, get on the ground, slide, all those types of things.
"I think having missed the significant amount of time that he missed last season was a great learning experience for him moving forward on how to play, stay available and stay healthy."
- On Friday, Colts.com will look at Jim Irsay's comments about the need for a healthy campaign from Andrew Luck.*