INDIANAPOLIS – In the midst of 10 OTA sessions and with a mini-camp coming in June, this may be the most fun practice period annually for NFL players and coaches.
The Colts are teeming with young talent and hope to channel it and make a successful run at the 2013 season.
A large part of the story will be the continued growth of Andrew Luck, who set numerous franchise and NFL rookie records with last season's performance.
An opening-day starter who took every snap, Luck helped direct the Colts into the playoffs with a nine-game improvement from 2011's 2-14 finish.
The club's 11-5 record included winning nine of 10 games decided by seven points, and Luck's ability to thrive under fire was a central part to the success.
Clyde Christensen tutored Luck closely, and it was the eighth time in 11 seasons he has been associated with a Colts team that won at least 11 games.
With the Colts under a new offense being installed by Pep Hamilton, Luck's coordinator in 2011 at Stanford, the aim is to further develop a young quarterback's talent.
"I think the thing to challenge him with is, 'What do you like? What fits you right?' He'll take more ownership (of the offense). He'll be one step ahead of the game," said Christensen. "It's the second time seeing the pictures as he's going around the league. The notes he's taken and all the experience will pay off in some big plays and fewer sacks."
Christensen says the new offense represents about a 20 percent change for Luck, where his current non-Stanford teammates have a 100 percent learning curve.
Familiarity with the offense and his teammates should assist Luck this year.
"I think there will be a maturity and everything will get 20 percent better," said Christensen. "He'll understand how quick everything is, how fast it is. I think he'll have some experience with these receivers, the T.Y. Hilton's, the Reggie Wayne's, the Dwayne Allen's, guys who he has a year under his belt with. That's huge. He didn't have that last year."
Last year, Luck had five receivers with 20 or more receptions and three of them – Coby Fleener, Hilton and Allen – were rookies, too. All have been with Luck in OTAs, while the Colts have added veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey to help replace Donnie Avery from 2011.
"The biggest thing for us is to get familiar with our receivers," said Christensen. "It's to get the new system down right now. It's a new one. Peyton Manning had the luxury of not having to learn a new system.
"Our thing this year has been more schematic. Even though Andrew has been in it at Stanford and has been familiar with it, it still is new. It's new for everyone around him. We want to get to feeling good and fresh with the system."
Luck spoke this week of the need for meaningful work to be accomplished this spring. Part of that work is self-analysis from coaches, as well as their antenna of what else works in a sophisticated league.
"Even though last year was a different offense, we still break it down and go through it thoroughly like we did with Peyton, 'Hey, let's look at our interceptions. How do we cut those down? Let's look at our big plays. How do we increase those? Let's look at second- and third-down passing. What can we do better at that?' We'll break down all of last year and do one topic per week," said Christensen. "We'll discuss it and look at what other people are doing."
Andrew Luck's Rookie Season Breakdown
5 Christensen was used to the demanding manner of Manning as Indianapolis competed successfully annually. Christensen will draw on those days, as well as other examples.
"I'll make it a habit of throwing him some of the really established guys – Drew Brees, Peyton, Aaron Rodgers and we'll see what we can glean from them," said Christensen. "That's kind of the fun part of the off-season. You have some time. You go through all phases of the game, critique what other teams are doing to pick up some ideas.
"In training camp, we'll go to work on some specific things. We are working on some technique things that we thought we could improve on. We'll continue to work on the deep throws and some things like that."