Andrew Luck makes strong statement in debut for Indianapolis Colts

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The Indianapolis Colts’ 2012 preseason opener, unlike such games in years past, was significant. It would offer the fan base its first look at the Colts under GM Ryan Grigson, coach Chuck Pagano and, most importantly, new franchise quarterback Andrew Luck.

Safe to say that first look was a good one.

Luck, heir apparent to Peyton Manning, looked a lot like the great former Colts quarterback in several ways Sunday in leading Indy to a 38-3 wallop of the St. Louis Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium, and not just because his first pass as a professional went for a touchdown.

Sure enough, that is what happened. On the Colts’ first offensive play, Luck opted for play-action when protection broke down and quickly dumped the ball off to running back Donald Brown, who broke through a hole and sped off for a 63-yard touchdown. Eerily, Manning’s first pass in a NFL (preseason) game was a short slant to Marvin Harrison, who himself took the pass 48 yards to the house.

But Luck resembled Manning in other ways as well. His pocket awareness was evident; his other touchdown pass was a perfect read (and 23-yard strike) to receiver Austin Collie in the bottom-right corner of the end zone. He threaded the needle on a sideline pass to rookie wideout T.Y. Hilton, placing the ball just beyond the reach of a St. Louis defender. He threw a 32-yard rainbow down the middle of the field to Quan Cosby, who came down with the pass at the Rams’ 1-yard line.

Luck also displayed an ability Manning didn’t have — an ability to run fluidly out of the pocket. His offensive line, particularly the right side, did him no favors. Luck was under pressure pretty much as long as he was out there, but he had a knack for feeling the rush and extending plays with his legs. Note: the Rams have a talented front four — three of their guys are former first-round picks (Chris Long, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers) and the fourth guy (Kendall Langford) has been a solid pro. If the way the Colts’ offensive line played Sunday is a sign of how they’ll handle talented fronts in the regular season, this skill of Luck’s will have to come in handy early and often.

Luck finished 10-of-16 for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Three of his incomplete passes were receiver drops, and another was a throwaway under pressure. In fact, had the receivers held onto those three passes, Luck would have had a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He led the Colts offense to three touchdowns in four drives.

There was hardly anything not to like about Luck’s play. In fact, the only thing more he could have done was find tight end Coby Fleener open in the corner of the end zone when he instead missed eligible lineman Joe Reitz in the back for a would-be third touchdown pass (of course, the play was drawn for Reitz).

Sure, Sunday’s game, while impressive, didn’t answer all the questions. Again, the offensive line looked woeful against the Rams’ starting defensive front. The Colts defense, while getting aggressive play from outside linebackers (wow) Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, inside linebacker Kavell Conner and end Drake Nevis, still has a gaping hole at the second cornerback spot. Justin King, who started there Sunday, led the team with six tackles, but that might have been because Rams quarterback Sam Bradford targeted his area so much. To make matters worse, inside linebacker Pat Angerer, who finished 2011 among the league’s top tacklers, was lost for at least six weeks with a foot injury. Could Jerrell Freeman, who shined in his snaps Sunday, hold the fort until Angerer returns?

Other than those issues, I just couldn’t come out of Sunday and not be impressed with what I saw. Not only did Luck look to be in complete control of his offense, but backup quarterbacks Drew Stanton and Chandler Harnish each led the offense on touchdown drives. Harnish looked especially impressive behind center, completing all three of his passes — one a beautiful 33-yard touchdown strike down the sideline to Jeremy Ross. Again, it’s preseason, but judging by what evidence exists, the Colts might be more than one-deep at quarterback for the first time in a good while.

At the end of the day, though, the young man who will be the face of the franchise gave Colts fans every reason to believe he’s up to the monumental task of succeeding Peyton Manning.

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  1. USA Sports 360 says

    Before the draft I thought Irsay should have picked RGIII. Now that Luck played with the Colts they got the right guy. He looked fantastic in the Game….He can only get better from there..

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