PROPER BLUEPRINT

The Colts and Redskins meet in Washington on Saturday, which means the top two picks in the draft, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, will share the same playing field. This is the fifth time since the common draft was instituted in 1967 that quarterbacks have been taken with the top two picks. Players taken at the top of the draft typically will succeed but at the game’s most important position it always has not been the case. The best way to help ensure success is a proper blueprint.

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INDIANAPOLIS –Five times since the common draft was instituted in 1967 quarterbacks have been taken with the top two choices in the selection process.

This year is the latest occurrence with Andrew Luck being taken first by the Colts and Robert Griffin III being taken second by the Redskins.

Luck and Griffin will be linked far more by trivia buffs than by football purists.  Both quite likely are far more concerned with forging a career than measuring themselves head-to-head.  Luck touched on that this week when asked.

"Hopefully, none (laughs).  We'll see," said Luck of how much he expected 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.

"You realize that's (the attention) 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.  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."

Football is the biggest team sport, and Luck and Griffin cannot help the fact that attention is lavished on them being selected consecutively at the top of the draft.  On Saturday, both will be focused on the opposing 3-4 defense along with being ready when the regular season bell rings.

There is a connection to the Colts on two of the four other occasions when quarterbacks were taken with the draft's first two picks.  That would be in 1998 and 1999 with Bruce Arians, now the Colts' offensive coordinator.  Arians was the club's quarterbacks coach when Indianapolis selected Peyton Manning first overall in 1998.  San Diego followed that by tabbing Ryan Leaf. 

The next year, Cleveland took Tim Couch with the top pick, then Philadelphia selected Donovan McNabb.  Arians did not tutor Couch as a rookie, but he was the Browns' coordinator from 2001-03, working with him as the starter most of that time.

Along with the offensive staff, Arians was hands-on with Manning from the outset.  With a solid blueprint in place, a philosophy that did not waver, Manning was able to have one of the more successful rookie seasons in history, hitting 326-of-575 passes for 3,739 yards and 26 touchdowns.  All of those totals set NFL rookie records, though Sam Bradford eclipsed Manning's marks for attempts and completions in 2010 and Cam Newton bettered his yardage mark last season.

In Cleveland, Arians saw Couch, then a young veteran, have the usual ups and downs that developing quarterbacks have.  Couch's ascent, however, was sidetracked by injury.

Arians is a gifted developer of quarterbacks.  In addition to Manning and Couch, he helped nurture Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, taking over as coordinator in Roethlisberger's fourth year after tutoring the Steelers' receivers.

Arians was a part of an unwavering philosophy at Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, and he believes that is the biggest necessity in a quarterback's productivity.  Specifically, a team must put in a system and avoid any deviation from it.

"There's no doubt that helps (being in one system)," said Arians.  "If you start switching guys and firing coaches, you basically should just trade your quarterback.  He's never going to learn it.  Peyton (Manning) was in a system forever.  Ben (Roethlisberger) was in a system forever.  It changed a little bit, but he was part of the change.  That's their only chance, I think."

One thing Arians learned in Indianapolis in Manning's development was the importance of pass protection.  A year prior to Manning's arrival, the club allowed 62 sacks.  An order from the top, Jim Irsay, was to protect the quarterback.  The club shaved the total in 1998 to 22.

A big part of that was an early-Monday meeting with the offensive staff where protection schemes were the top priority.

"There's no doubt.  That's one thing I learned from Tom (Moore)," said Arians.  "We start every week with pass protection, knowing our hots (hot reads), knowing our sights (sight adjustments), because we can't block them all. 

"That's a major, major part of football right now especially with substitution football, spreading the field out.  The exotic zone blitzes are just getting worse and worse to try to handle.  You spend most of your time on that.  It's fun when you can run the ball and beat somebody up.  It doesn't happen very often in this league anymore, but that pass protection is the key."

It is not just on the offensive line and tight ends to protect the quarterback.  According to Arians, it is the duty of the whole unit, including the player who takes the center snap.

"Everybody.  It's not just the blocker, the receivers have to block the unblocked guys and the quarterback has to see them (unblocked defenders)," said Arians.  "We executed a nice couple of hots (hot reads) in the Pittsburgh game.  We'll see probably more exotic blitzes probably this week because of the magnitude of the game."

Often when a young quarterback is being taken, the team he is going to may not be on the uptick.  Being solid beyond the playing roster is essential to ward off possible struggles.

"It's the team you get on and the situation you're put in.  Most of the time it's a struggling group of guys and how you handle the adversity part of it because it's not going to be easy," said Arians of why some young players fail and some succeed.  "I never would say Timmy (Couch) wasn't successful because he took us (Cleveland) to the playoffs (in 2002) before he broke his leg in the last game.  By the time he came back, he had a torn labrum, a torn rotator cuff.  It went downhill fast."

Joining a team that was 3-13 prior to his arrival, Manning's 3-13 rookie season had some high points and rough moments.  A defense that failed to hold double-digit leads in five different losses was difficult.  He had multiple interceptions in 10 outings, including 11 in the first four games.  Division games were a beast with the Jets winning the AFC East at 12-4 and the other three teams – Miami (10-6), Buffalo (10-6) and New England (9-7) – making the playoffs as wild cards.  Manning still had seven multiple-touchdown outings, tossing for three scores four different times.

The key was to manage the moment, remain even-keeled, have everyone share in the struggle and keep eyes peeled for the positives. 

"I think that's usually the common denominator, handling the adversity of a real long season, not only the quarterback (but) the offensive coordinator and the head coach," said Arians.  "We were 3-13, but you couldn't wait to go to work every Monday because you saw yourself getting better.  Every week we were getting better on offense.  You saw (Manning) grow.  You saw E.G. (Green) and Jerome (Pathon) grow, Terrence (Wilkins).  We were getting better each week.  Those last eight games, we were a pretty solid offense.  We couldn't wait for next year. 

"When you have those kinds of seasons, that's how you have to coach him (a quarterback).  You say, 'Let's find positives every week, build on the positives and don't worry about the wins and losses.' "

Arians says there are challenges in developing a quarterback.  Infrastructure is a must.

"Each and every one is so different.  You know, you always say you'd like to get a running game going, boom, boom, boom and run the ball.  Well, that works nice if you can run the ball and get it into third-and-five or less," said Arians.  "If you're going to put him back there, run it twice and be in third-and-seven and eight all the time, he's going to get killed.  He's not learning how to throw the football on first-and-ten. 

"I think you still have to be balanced.  He has to have a great command of what he's trying to get done.  He has to know his protections because that's when you get killed, on your hots and your blitzes, especially now with all the zone blitz fires and things that we see.  He has to be inside out, up-and-down, on the money on his protections. 

"Building a rapport with his receivers sometimes is a little overrated.  We run everything on timing so that part has to be there, especially in the red zone when you'll know a guy's subtle moves and stuff.  But the protection part of it is the biggest thing in getting one of them ready to play."

As for Luck and Griffin, Arians would be surprised if both do not succeed.

"I'd be shocked.  I think they're both going to be successful for a long time, hopefully in some Super Bowls against each other," said Arians.   "I think they'll both do well.  I think they're both in systems that fit them quite to a 'T.'  There's no doubt that Robert will be extremely successful in this league.  Andrew will be, too." 

QUARTERBACKS TAKEN 1-2 SINCE NFL COMMON DRAFT IN 1967

1971

Jim Plunkett (First, New England) Career:  New England 1971-75; San Francisco 1976-77; Oakland/LA Raiders 1979-86; Comp-Att-Yds-TD-Int:  1,943-3,701-25,882-164-198; Won-Loss record as starter:  72-72.

Archie Manning (Second, New Orleans) Career:  New Orleans 1971-82; Houston 1982-83; Minnesota 1983-84; Comp-Att-Yds-TD-Int:  2,011-3,642-23,911-125-173; Won-Loss record as starter:  35-101-3.

1993

Drew Bledsoe (First, New England) Career:  New England 1993-2001; Buffalo 2002-04; Dallas 2005-06; Comp-Att-Yds-TD-Int:  3,839-6,717-44,611-251-206; Won-Loss record as starter:  98-95.

Rick Mirer (Second, Seattle) Career:  Seattle 1993-96; Chicago 1997; N.Y. Jets 1999; San Francisco 2000; Oakland 2003; Comp-Att-Yds-TD-Int:  1,088-2,043-11,969-50-76; Won-Loss record as starter:  24-44.

1998

Peyton Manning (First, Colts) Career:  Colts 1998-2011; Denver 2012; Comp-Att-Yds-TD-Int:  4,682-7,210-54,828-399-198; Won-Loss record as starter:  141-67.

Ryan Leaf (Second, San Diego) Career:  San Diego 1998, 2000; Dallas 2001; Comp-Att-Yds-TD-Int:  317-655-3,666-14-36; Won-Loss record as starter:  4-17.

1999

Tim Couch (First, Cleveland) Career:  Cleveland 1999-2003; Comp-Att-Yds-TD-Int:  1,025-1,714-11,131-64-67; Won-Loss record as starter:  22-37.

Donovan McNabb (Second, Philadelphia) Career:  Philadelphia 1999-2009; Washington 2010; Minnesota 2011; Comp-Att-Yds-TD-Int:  3,170-5,374-37,276-234-117; Won-Loss record as starter:  98-62-1.

2012

Andrew Luck (First, Colts)

Robert Griffin III (Second, Washington)

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