MATURING, LEARNING, PROSPERING

Once quarterback Andrew Luck’s name was called with the first pick in the draft, any suspense about whom the Indianapolis starter would be subsided quickly. Luck has performed very well in his first six games, helping lead the club to a 3-3 mark and keeping it lodged in the tightly-compacted AFC standings. His progress is evident as he moves toward the mid-point of his first year.

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INDIANAPOLIS –One would be hard-pressed to find any NFL observer who would disagree that Andrew Luck was destined for success in the NFL because of his wondrous talent.

As gifted physically and mentally as he is, however, the competitive league was likely to afford challenges along with the way.

Through six games, Luck has helped guide the Colts to a 3-3 mark, placing Indianapolis as one of 10 conference teams with either three or four wins.  The team is relevant and very much so is Luck. 

The NFL playing landscape is dotted with veteran quarterbacks as well as an impressive group of younger performers at the position.  For every Manning, Brady, Manning, Roethlisberger, Rodgers and Ryan there is a Newton, Locker, Gabbert, Ponder, Tannehill, Weeden and Griffin III.

The offenses in which these quarterbacks ply their trades are almost as different as the geographic locations in which they compete.

For every head coach watching his signal-caller, there are a multiple ways and countless observers who dissect and chart their production.

Substituting for Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano is interim leader Bruce Arians, a talented evaluator who has helped sculpt careers like Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.  Arians turns a blind eye to most numbers that are used to debate a quarterback's play and how their performances compare to each other.

"No, not at all," said Arians this week on if he paid attention to advanced statistics geared to compare quarterbacks.  "There are so many quarterback ratings now, and everybody's got their own.  I just judge the one that we have and how he's playing."

Arians is a blunt and honest type who busies himself coaxing production on game days.  He has helped put together an offensive attack more vertical than others, with an emphasis on taking shots down the field.  He wants the football in play-makers' hands but like any smart coach, the offense will be varied enough to adapt to defensive wrinkles.

"If you go back and look at my history, I throw it deep more than anybody in the league," said Arians.  "We do spread people out.  We throw it quick.  We think we have everything, but we also use our tight ends and (running) backs a lot to help our offensive line. 

"We want to throw the football to the guys that are getting paid to catch it and hand it to the guys who are paid to run it.  We're not a West Coast offense by any means."

Quarterbacks are credited with "targeting" receivers on NFL game summaries.  Though unofficial at best, the numbers reflect Arians' claim. 

Luck is credited with targeting wide receivers 176 times in six games, tight ends 52 times and running backs 16 times.  He has completed 91 passes to wide receivers for 1,240 yards and four touchdowns, while tight ends have combined for 33 receptions for 324 yards and two scores and backs have caught 10 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown.

Still, the true barometer for statistical success is winning.  Indianapolis is 3-3, three games better than this time a year ago.  The offense has done its part. 

Luck has directed two fourth-quarter comeback wins.  He is the first rookie quarterback with 1,500 passing yards (1,674) and three wins in a team's first six games in history.  Last week, he became the third Colts quarterback ever to rush for two touchdowns in a game.

Luck has a solid working command of the club's playbook.  He has the respect of his teammates and the organization, and his play has helped Colts fans locally and otherwise to feel very good about the future. 

Luck feels there are things he does better now than earlier in the season, and he is aware that all maturation is a work in progress.  

"I think I'm learning when to throw the ball the away, when to take a sack, when not to force a ball.  These are some things that I'm nowhere near perfect on and will continue to learn.  Hopefully, I'll get better," said Luck.  "I have a better grasp for certain situations of games.  Whether it's four minutes and we have the ball and we are trying to run the clock out, or we have a minute-and-a-half left and you're down four at the end of the game. 

"Situational football (I think I'm better).  I think I've learned a little bit more about the playbook every week, maybe a little bit more about opposing defenses.  (There's) still a long way to go."

In football terms, when asked this week if the game were slowing down for him, he slid in the pocket and fired a response.

"Slowing down is an interesting term.  I hear (observers) say it a lot," said Luck.  "I think I'm getting more comfortable in certain situations and maybe that is akin to the game slowing down.  I think my thought process is maybe smoother now, 'I see this and I know this is coming and I know I need to here with my read.'  I would say that process is getting smoother.

"There have been times where I've come (to) the sideline and sat down with (quarterbacks coach) Clyde (Christensen) and said, 'I have absolutely no clue what just happened.'  We will look through the pictures and say, 'Okay, it's just this front, this coverage,' and say, 'Okay, next time I see that hopefully we'll recognize it as such.'  I just try and learn a little more each week and get comfortable."

He still is seeing some things for the first time.  Others he has seen before, and he diagnoses them upon sight.

"Yeah, I think there have been times of that," said Luck.  "I don't think I've had any major revelations or epiphanies out there, but I do think I've been able to improve on my recognition of a defense or recognition of how our plays fit in against what they're doing."

Luck will continue to listen to his coaches.  He will hone his craft over the next 10 games, hopefully playing the extent to which Manning did in his 1998 season with the Colts when he took every snap and threw all but one pass the team attempted.

He will follow his mentor, Arians, and he has the complete respect of his general manager, Ryan Grigson.

"We expect him to be great.  He's shown that.  He's shown flashes of greatness," said Grigson recently.  "As I have said before and Chuck has reiterated, 'The greatest thing about Andrew is he's his harshest critic.'  It's not like you have to needle him to get better.  Every time he steps on the practice field or into the weight room, that's all he's trying to do.  He's a type of kid we expect big things from. 

"He has a great tutor and mentor in Bruce (Arians), who is bringing him along. … We have a guy who can put the ball on the money, is mobile and can make plays under duress and when things break down.  That is a key, key trait for a quarterback in this league."

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